EDITOR'S DESK: Workforce study raises fair concerns

Wyatt Kash

The looming retirement of thousands of senior IT professionals from the federal government is stirring new workforce capacity concerns.

This much is true: Well over a third of the federal government's 78,900 civilian IT employees are over the age of 50. That has a lot of people worried that there isn't enough time, money and political willpower to groom and replace the breadth of experience that will soon vacate federal agencies.

Just how much experience will be walking out the door and whether the current skills of aging IT workers match what the government needs are among the subjects of a timely new study by the CIO Council and the Office of Personnel Management. The first of three parts of the study has been released.

It found: Of 22,104 federal civilian IT employees, 13 percent plan to retire over the next three years. So do another 16 percent in the three years following. That works out to 22,900 federal civilian IT professionals'or 29 percent'heading for the door.

With three-quarters of respondents in GS-12 grade level or higher, the vast majority will be taking valuable management experience with them.

Many argue the picture isn't so bleak. Given the growing momentum in cross-agency and private-sector collaboration'and the consolidation in federal IT jobs they engender'some say the turnover rate isn't exactly cataclysmic.

Reality, as with most debates, lies somewhere in between. While the study found no single competency or skill at risk from a wave of retiring workers, it strikes this cautionary note: The loss of project management skills, among other expertise, deserves attention.

That the CIO Council has already asked agencies to put together plans for meeting an expected shortage of project managers, enterprise architects and cybersecurity specialists'before the study is even completed'is telling of some of the risks that lie ahead for government IT programs.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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