Why a critical IT shortage is inevitable for states

A survey by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers finds that states are facing critical shortages of IT workers, made worse by furloughs, hiring freezes and stagnant salaries. And the retirements of many older workers loom.

State governments are facing critical IT personnel shortages due to budget constraints and an aging workforce heading for retirement, according to a recent report by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).

"The inevitable wave of baby boomers that will leave the state workforce in the next five years has only compounded the challenges that exist for recruitment and retention of highly qualified IT personnel,” said Chad Grant, NASCIO policy analyst and author of the study, "State IT Workforce: Under Pressure - A National Survey of the States.” 

“State layoffs, furloughs, hiring freezes and lack of salary increases (have) exacerbated this situation,” continued Grant in his report.

Forty states, the District of Columbia and one territory responded to the Web-based survey, which was completed in November. The survey benchmarked data from NASCIO’s 2007 survey on the same subject, “State IT Workforce: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?” and found that although the issue is more pressing today, the worst may be yet to come, because many older workers have held off on retiring due to the down economy.

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Nearly two-thirds of respondents anticipate having to reduce staff and, consistent with the 2007 survey, nearly a quarter of state CIOs predict that between 21 and 30 percent of state IT employees will be eligible for retirement in the next five years. An additional 29 percent anticipate that between 31 and 50 percent of their IT employees will be eligible for retirement in the same time period.

An aging workforce and tight budgets are only part of the problem, however. In a survey by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, or ISC-Squared, reported on by GCN in November, many respondents blamed a shortage of IT security personnel on a limited talent pool. Nearly half said that current information security certification programs, which are increasingly required in both government and the private sector, are inadequate and do not address the needed skills.

“There are not enough people to go around,” Philip Reitinger, deputy undersecretary at the Homeland Security Department’s National Protection and Programs Directorate said in November. “And getting them is really hard.”

Rapidly changing technology adds another layer to the problem, as does the issue of offering salary and benefits packages that are competitive with the private sector. Nearly 79 percent of state CIOs surveyed said that salary rates and pay grade structures are an obstacle to attracting and retaining skilled IT staff. The top five hiring challenge areas for state CIOs are security, project management, architecture, application and mobile application development, and support and analysis and design.

In fact, slightly more than half of NASIO’s survey respondents continue to have difficulty recruiting new employees to fill vacant IT positions – even in a sluggish economy. In addition, slightly less than half – about 47 percent – reported that a shortage of qualified IT candidates would hinder the state’s ability to achieve its strategic IT initiatives.

The greatest challenges, however, are hiring freezes and elimination of vacant positions. The average anticipated staff reduction was 10 percent, with the lowest reported at two percent and the highest 20 percent.

Despite these issues, 76 percent of respondents reported that their state does not perform an IT workforce assessment.

NASCIO represents CIOs and IT executives from the states, territories and the District of Columbia.