Reeling in IT talent in the public sector

By Cara Cunningham, InfoWorld |  Career

IF YOU'RE MANAGING an IT department at just about any company in the country,
recruiting quality IT talent is probably your biggest headache. And it's not going away
anytime soon. There are fewer computer science majors coming out of universities today
than there were 10 years ago, and demand for fresh talent is still growing. Competition
is tight, salaries can be absurdly high, and benefits that used to be special perks,
such as stock options, are standard issue.

Now imagine that you're working in the public sector. Your problem just got a whole
lot worse.

As nearly all public agencies and government have become savvy to the benefits of
technology, their IT project lists have grown. And like their counterparts in the
private sector, they need to hire top-notch programmers, engineers, and project
managers who have skills in the latest technologies.

But government organizations -- particularly at the state and local level, where
budgets and staffs are smaller -- are strapped by restrictions such as salary caps, an
inability to offer stock options, and a reputation for lagging behind in technology
innovation. These factors can add up to the least attractive opportunity an IT job
candidate receives.

To overcome the growing shortage of IT workers, government agencies have gotten
creative, and to stay competitive, private companies may just have to follow suit.

"This shortage of IT workers hits the state governments more so than the private
sector," says Ed Janairo, training coordinator in the information technology group at
the Council of State Governments, in Lexington, Ky. "The base salary is typically
lower, and there's the impression or stereotype out there that state governments [are]
going to be using older systems that seems to deter a lot of candidates."

Uncovering obstacles

The public sector is investigating its recruiting difficulties. Last year, the
Council of State Governments decided that the issue of IT recruiting was crucial, so it
sent out a survey to the top IT managers in each state -- usually the state CIO or IT
director -- to find out just how bad the situation was. A report due out in May will
detail the findings of the survey.

"This is more of a preliminary report. It doesn't go so far as to identify best
[recruiting] practices, but the point is to make clear the severity of the problem for
state administrators," Janairo says.

But IT administrators in the public sector can't wait for the survey results to
help them hire qualified people. Many are finding ways to attract the IT talent they
need in their own creative ways: forming partnerships with the commercial sector,
promoting the mission behind what they do, and even becoming marketers.

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