Of the People: It's never too late or too early to recruit IT workers

It's never too late or too early to recruit IT workers

Ira Hobbs

Anyone who knows anything about the federal IT work force has heard talk about what many consider a crisis. If you haven't, take my word for it, there is a crisis. The federal government's IT work force is aging, so much so that an alarming number of employees are eligible for retirement or soon will be.

Resolution of this problem will require some action by Congress. But there is still a lot that managers and executives can do themselves to improve recruitment, for both today and tomorrow. Management must be proactive in seeking workers, and it must ensure the government is a competitive employer in the eyes of the next generation of IT professionals.

If not, agencies will be unable to bring to fruition the promise of e-government, which is to use IT to improve performance and service.

I'm happy to note that many in the federal IT community are taking the time to personally attract the IT talent of tomorrow. Last month, the CIO Council's Workforce and Human Capital for IT Committee sponsored Groundhog Shadow Day'a governmentwide effort to acquaint high school students with IT careers at the federal level.

On that day, almost 100 students from Washington-area high schools spent the day with IT executives and employees at several agencies, including the Agriculture, Commerce, State and Treasury departments, the National Science Foundation and the Customs Service.

Among others, students came from schools such as Ballou Senior High School, Edison Academy, Lake Braddock Secondary School, Potomac Senior High School, Suitland Senior High School and Techworld Public Charter School.

By most accounts, both the students and the IT employees who served as gracious hosts had worthwhile experiences. At Agriculture'where yours truly works his day job'Deputy Secretary James Mosely greeted 10 wide-eyed students at a 9 a.m. welcome session.

Students spent the day with their IT mentors, touring the USDA Web site, seeing firsthand what IT professionals do, and learning IT's critical role in helping USDA employees improve life in rural areas and provide food and food safety.

And so it went at agency after agency. At the Naval Sea Systems Command, students paired with IT professionals who took them on help desk trouble calls, demonstrating the latest in telecommunications and Internet technology. At Customs, students visited the emergency response center created in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. At the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, students were exposed to technology policy issues, Web page creation and applications development by IT staff.

Participating agencies hoped students learned a new appreciation for the role of technology in some of our nation's most important federal agencies. Sponsors learned a little more about what it will take to attract up-and-coming youth who might not otherwise choose government.

Young people are already technology-savvy, and they have skills government needs if it is to remain vital in this new century.

To compete for their services, the government must have a whole lot more Groundhog Job Shadow Days.

Ira Hobbs is deputy CIO at the Agriculture Department and a member of the CIO Council.

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