State, Local Governments Still Seriously Lack IT Workers

Most state and local governments continue to suffer a critical shortage of qualified information technology staff, despite the economic slowdown that has brought mass layoffs in the technology industry, according to research firm Gartner Inc.

A study released Nov. 29 by the Stamford, Conn., company said 87 percent of state governments and 80 percent of local governments don't have the tech workers they need.

Compensation packages that lag behind the private sector and insufficient reward programs are the biggest problems for state and local governments in recruiting and retaining IT workers, the study found. The aging of the work force will further contribute to the problem over the next five years.

Skill shortages are found at all levels, but skilled IT workers are most needed at intermediate and advanced skill levels.

"The shortages at these senior levels are particularly troubling, because the success of government IT initiatives will increasingly depend upon the ability of governments to manage projects completed by a mix of internal and external staff," said Bill Keller, public sector research director for Gartner.

"If qualified internal staff is lacking, many government IT projects will face risk of delay, cancellation or, worst of all, failure," he said.

These shortages will continue, and may even get worse, because the public-sector IT workers are rapidly approaching retirement. At 54 percent of state agencies, for example, 11 percent to 20 percent of staff members are eligible to retire within five years. Nearly 50 percent of local agencies are in the same position.

"Although many state and some local governments are instituting programs to deal with the upcoming retirement of so many IT staff, there are still too many who have told us they either have not yet taken steps or believe there is no solution to the problem," Keller said.

According to Gartner, updating human resource procedures or adopting outsourcing strategies would help keep IT departments fully staffed, but the survey showed that many state and local governments have been unable or unwilling to do so.

"In particular, CIOs and other leaders must develop marketing strategies to hire and retain qualified workers, develop strategies to better integrate internal and external employees and vendors, and implement tactical solutions designed to improve recruitment and retention in the short term," Keller said.

Gartner polled the public-sector agencies during the summer and fall. Twenty-eight states and 40 of the largest counties and cities responded. The senior person with knowledge of human resources issues faced by the jurisdiction completed the questionnaire.

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