Reeling in IT talent in the public sector

By Cara Cunningham, InfoWorld |  Career

That's a selling point that the department promotes when it attends job fairs and
conferences, Gibson adds.

Facing market realities

Despite these approaches, governmental departments across the board need to raise
the salaries of IT workers, says Jerry Mechling, director of Strategic Computing and
Telecommunications in the Public Sector at Harvard University's Kennedy School of
Government, in Cambridge, Mass.

"It's been a general problem for the government to find and hire any specialty that
becomes hot in the market," Mechling says. "And if you're first in your field, you can
make a lot more money being outside [of the government] than inside. It's true for
doctors, lawyers, in addition to IT."

But government agencies need to face the realities of competing with the commercial
sector for IT, because the challenge isn't going away anytime soon.

"While it's a long-term and bloody undertaking, convincing civil-servant structures
to keep closer to market salaries is very worthwhile. You can't have a huge [salary]
gap for a long period of time and not have it hurt you," Mechling says.

Fairfax's Molchany says that although he still isn't paying his workers on par with
commercial companies he's getting close. Salaries were raised by an average of 5
percent last year. He has committed to keep within range of private sector salaries by
doing surveys on an annual basis.

"We have to be competitive with the marketplace. We have to keep an eye on what
other people are paying, and we will do market studies yearly because we have to be as
conscientious as we can," Molchany says.

Molchany has a group of advisors called the Information Technology Policy Advisory
Council, made up of business executives from the community, that supports the idea of
salary surveys.

One alternative to recruiting is farming out projects overseas, which can be a hot
button issue when spending taxpayers' dollars.

"We are seeing a [staffing] shortage situation where a lot of the work is going
offshore; the rates are attractive and it's decent quality," Benzen says. "It's not
popular to send taxpayer's money overseas, but as a last resort, if it was that or [the
project] wouldn't get done, we'd do it."

There are lessons to be learned from the creative approaches that state and local
governments are taking to recruuiting. Forming partnerships with other employers in the
area to tackle the problem can produce results, as can selling what's unique about
one's company, such as a high level of workplace flexibility or a compelling
mission.

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