Why a critical IT shortage is inevitable for states

Survey finds tight budgets, furloughs and aging employees are compounding the problem of an already understaffed workforce

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.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

Reader Comments

Fri, Jan 28, 2011

Just do what Washington State is planning and outsource all IT technical support. They are centralizing all Help Desk support as well. If anyone needs trained IT staff - Olympia, WA will soon have a large pool of unemployed technical workers... The Governor says the state is going to save 32 MILLION in the next 3 YEARS! I wanna see where all that savings is coming from - I bet vendors have provided the cost savings analysis.

Fri, Jan 28, 2011

You get what you pay for. If you're low balling services like IT, you will always be disatisfied with the results. You will only get people applying who can't make it in the private sector. Even private sector pays hiring and retention bonuses, while we get 1.4% or less than nothing recently, and everyone screams at us for even having a job. Outsource it all to India? You know somebody is thinking it, so they can line their pockets at our nations expense.

Fri, Jan 28, 2011 TA

Why hasn't the people writing all the reports about how easy it will be to retain and hire new for the FEDs read this report. Seems they (Obama ADMIN) like the reports that state the FED GOV needs to adpot the State model of FREEZES, FURLOUGHS, ETC, but ignore these reports of the negative impacts of those State policies.

Fri, Jan 28, 2011 aw kc

I work for the Feds and I'm due to retire in less than 5 years. Our pay has been frozen for a couple years at least, and when we did get COLA's they were pitiful @ 1.3%. I definitely plan on retiring as soon as I can. With the large amount of IT security personnel needed, I’m surprised at all the focus on new hires, and not re-tasking many of the IT people in Network, Database, and Systems administration. All these folks normally have years or decades performing IT work, and all IT work includes security knowledge. Which would be more effort, training new graduates in IT security jobs, or taking years of rounded IT experience and just adding some more security knowledge?

Fri, Jan 28, 2011 Deone Hoonoz USA

There are a thousand (1000s) choices to finding excuses why projects can or will go wrong.
But there are ONLY two (2) reasons why they actually end up as failures:
Lack of Vision and sheer Incompetence.

34+ years in Business IT and I never cease to be amazed.
Ring the bell if you need help!

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