Emerging technology capabilities—and threats—are changing the way government agencies work, from the federal to local level. Though new technologies have immense potential to transform the way agencies serve citizens, government workforces often lack the specific technical skills to make that promise a reality.
While addressing this gap will require targeted hiring, governments may also develop strategies to upskill their more experienced employees and leverage their invaluable understanding of public sector missions, needs, and processes. Investment in the public sector’s strongest asset—its people—is the clearest path toward preparing government workforces for tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities.
Upskilling to Fill Government IT and Engineering JobsIn a 2020 survey by FedScoop and WorkScoop, government IT leaders listed upskilling employees as among the most effective strategies for addressing the skills gap.
Additionally, investing in employees’ growth is a powerful tool for morale and retention. According to LinkedIn Learning, 94 percent of employees say they would stay in their role longer if their organization invested in their development and growth. Opportunities to learn on the job can be a boon for recruitment.
Despite their clear benefits, fewer than 40 percent of respondents to the 2020 FedScoop survey had used training programs within the prior two years to address skills gaps on their teams. Budget and time were significant constraining factors, but nearly half of respondents also noted that they lacked a clear vision of what skills were needed. This suggests that additional guidance from agency leadership and educational partners could improve participation in upskilling programs.
Agencies looking to upskill government engineers should take these five considerations into account:
1. Identify and prioritize the most important skills. Since survey responses indicate that many public sector IT leaders lack clarity on the skills their organizations need to thrive, agency leadership must take a more active role in identifying priority skills. Conducting a skills gap analysis can help leaders find important grounding information. Resources from the Office of Personnel Management and other federal agencies can also help leaders develop a road map for addressing those gaps.
2. Identify employees with transferable skills. IT leaders should assess their existing workforce, inventory existing skill sets, and identify employees who have a base level of skills in certain areas. For example, employees may be well versed in traditional networking but not cloud networks, or they may need to develop new skills to manage the technology required by a distributed workforce. These employees will likely be good candidates for upskilling programs.
3. Incentivize upskilling in the workplace. Because mobility is traditionally more limited in the public sector, it’s essential that employees see clear incentives for learning new skills and taking on new responsibilities. Managers, for example, should work with employees to identify new positions within existing structures that they can move into with targeted skills development.
4. Enroll employees in courses or training programs. While some tech skills can be learned on the job, many skill sets within IT and engineering require more formal training. University classes or targeted courses (like those Emeritus offers) can prepare employees to take on new challenges by developing both hard and soft skills.
State governments have already seen a high rate of success with customized training programs tailored to meet the needs of specific groups of employees. A Deloitte analysis of data from the Workforce Opportunity and Innovation Act (a federal funding program aimed at upskilling public sector workers) found that employment rates and salaries increased among participants in these custom programs.
5. Follow up and track progress. As with any other project, leaders should set clear metrics for outcomes and performance. Tracking what works and what doesn’t and sharing that information with other agencies and organizations can help further develop a solid public-sector IT base that can compete with the private sector in both talent and outcomes.
Ultimately, while the public sector’s unique structure presents certain obstacles to building a strong base of talent in IT and engineering, concerted efforts to upskill employees can help prepare government agencies at all levels to provide public service for the future, and improve employee recruitment, retention, and satisfaction.
Editor's note: This post originally published on the Emeritus blog.