Their job: Find the best fit for people in IT jobs
- By Jason Miller
- Sep 10, 2002
Laura Callahan and Ira Hobbs, IT work force advocates
David S. Spence
'If you have employees going on to bigger and better things, you will never have to worry about recruiting because people will want to come to work with you.'
'Agriculture's Ira Hobbs
David S. Spence
'You can buy all the hardware and software in the world, but if you don't have the knowledge and the work force to manage it, it will not work for you.'
'Labor's Laura Callahan
David S. Spence
Between them, Laura Callahan and Ira Hobbs bring more than 40 years of federal service to their positions as co-chairs of the CIO Council's Workforce and Human Capital for IT Committee.
Callahan, deputy CIO of the Labor Department, and Hobbs, deputy CIO of the Agriculture Department, tap that experience when working with the Office of Personnel Management and other agencies to improve the hiring and retention of federal IT workers.
Callahan has been in her Labor post since 1999. She oversees the department's $420 million IT budget and is responsible for the daily operations of the department's core networks, as well as all application systems.
Before coming to Labor, she worked for the Defense Department in a several jobs, including programmer, systems engineer and systems security officer. She also oversaw the network and desktop computing environment for the Executive Office of the President.
Callahan has bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science and a doctorate in computer information systems from Hamilton University in Wyoming.
Hobbs served as acting Agriculture CIO from February 2001 until the appointment last month of Scott Charbo as CIO.
As acting CIO, Hobbs oversaw 4,000 IT employees and helped manage a $1.7 billion IT program. He has been the department's deputy CIO since June 1997.
Last month, he returned to his duties as deputy.
Prior to his deputy CIO post, Hobbs was the director of USDA's Office of Operations from 1994 to 1997.
In that job, he managed a four-building complex, the department's procurement program and the National IT Center. Before that, he was director of the Information Systems and Communications Division for Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Hobbs has a bachelor's degree in political science from Florida A&M University and a master's in public administration from Florida State University. He also spent three years in the Army.
GCN staff writer Jason Miller interviewed Callahan and Hobbs at Callahan's Washington office. GCN: The CIO Council's Workforce and Human Capital for IT Committee has been busy over the last year. Has this effort paid off in improving the way the government recruits, hires and retains IT workers?
HOBBS: We started out trying to look not just at the status quo, but how to make things better. Out of that came things like the special salary rate, our initial report on the work force, a study from the National Academy of Public Administration, the stuff we are trying to do with knowledge management and technology training, and the virtual job fair.
We have heavily influenced how people are thinking about federal employment. The things they are talking about with homeland security'giving managers greater flexibility, looking more at workers' capabilities rather than their job classifications'all of those stem from things we have done.
The Office of Personnel Management has changed the way it talks about improving human capital and personnel management policies across the government.
One of the things we are proudest of is the virtual job fair. Not only did it accomplish a lot by hiring thousands of IT workers, but it changed the conversation about what can be done in the federal system. We demonstrated you can recruit like that.
Other disciplines are trying to emulate what we've done. That is the greatest testament to what we have been doing. But as far as I'm concerned, we have not truly gotten where we need to be to level the platform for people who are working in federal government with those in the private sector. There are still things to be done.GCN: When is the next virtual job fair going to be?
HOBBS: It was a good thing, not only for people outside of government looking to get in but for people who are in government and looking to move about.
We are waiting to hear from Congress about appropriations for 2003 before we plan to hire new workers. So we expect somewhere in the latter part of this month or next that we will go back to the CIO Council and say, "Are we ready?"
We think we've got it down to a science: Activate a team and do what needs to be done to have a virtual job fair.
What we want to be sure of is a legitimate need, that people have vacancies and there will be jobs available. We want it to be a meaningful exercise that will increase the capacity and competency of our IT community.GCN: What would you have done differently?
HOBBS: Nothing that I would consider a major change. Initially the servers couldn't handle the amount of traffic we received. So now we know how much processing power we need. My hope is that we will have more jobs that we are able to put online for folks to apply for.GCN: Could you briefly describe how Project Roadmap is going to be tied into how the government trains IT workers?
CALLAHAN: The road map from a general perspective is looking at mapping different approaches to solve the work force shortage.
We need to understand where our deficiencies are in skill sets and the number of workers needed to perform functions. We need to know where an organization is going with its strategic business drivers and how we are going to close all those gaps so agencies can have the people with the right skills at the right place at the right time.
The road map will give agencies a way to lay out different approaches. In some cases, a strategy may be broad or specific to an organization.
It will give us different opportunities to look at training folks in the skills we need for the IT work force.
It is not a one-size-fits-all approach. That is where the road map is vital to us. In some cases, an individual may need special developmental opportunities to bring their competency level up to perform a job, or in other cases there may be mentoring or job shadowing arrangement necessary.
We may not have the individuals on staff to even be able to train, and that is where the recruitment activities will be vital. So I think the benefit from Project Roadmap is that it lets us be flexible and apply an approach that is unique to the individual's and organization's needs.
HOBBS: What really excites me about the project is it gives employees a sense of ownership about developing their career and where they are trying to go, whether they work in IT or not.
It also gets folks who are interested in IT to understand what would it take to get into this arena.
As executives, we focus on the organization and the big picture, but a large measure of what happens to an employee is really up to the employee.
If employees want to map out careers for themselves, we are willing to make the investment and to provide the tools that will help them do that.GCN: Many organizations fail to offer employees adequate training opportunities. Will projects like the road map solve this problem?
HOBBS: We use the phrase 'focus on continuous learning.' The proof is in the pudding. Are we developing the kind of programs that promote continuous learning?
This is a component. It provides an opportunity for employees to continue improving themselves and put themselves on a path where they want to go, not simply take what comes available.
A lot of times people get trapped in organizations because they are waiting to find out where they are going next.
If we are not prepared to answer the question that many young people are asking''How can you help me get to where I'm going?''we will find ourselves competitively behind the eight ball as we try to recruit.
CALLAHAN: The key is looking ahead and helping up-and-comers lay out where they want to develop their career paths. That is a responsibility of management'to help them achieve their goals.
Having someone develop their skills and know they have a desire to become, say, a security specialist, helps me manage them through the developmental process. If I know there is an opportunity for a security specialist, even if it is at another organization, I can help them get that position.
It also breaks down the traditional approach where agencies have kept people within their own organizations and developed them only through the internal opportunities.
It is a challenge for me, as a manager, to look at things differently and change that cultural behavior to see what opportunities exist in the federal government that help a person achieve his career goal, even if I may lose him from my staff.
HOBBS: You can't promote everyone in an organization. You have to make choices.
A lot of times I say to my employees that the best testimony to me as a manager is how many of them move from here and go on to bigger and better things. If you have employees going on to bigger and better things, people will want to come to work with you.GCN: To cut costs, many agencies look at training as the first thing to go. What is the role of online training in improving federal IT workers' skills?
HOBBS: Managers and supervisors don't come to the job with a single tool; they come with multiple tools. Will online training completely replace training in the classroom? I don't think so, but we will see more folks getting some form of training online.
CALLAHAN: It will be a good tool because it augments traditional methods. We can bridge some of the geographic barriers through electronic learning and reach a wider student base than through traditional classroom methods.
Training is not one-size-fits-all because we all learn differently. We have to work with the employees to understand what their career goals are and how they learn in order to achieve the knowledge they need to progress in their career paths. That method of training will vary from person to person.GCN: Has online training technology advanced to a point where it's a credible tool, or are budget concerns driving its broader use?
HOBBS: I think it is both. Clearly, you have to understand the economic advantage. For $6 or $7 a seat, you can make 300 courses available to 1,000 people.
Secondly, given the advent of the Internet, you can make it available to more people. The technology is there, and as it becomes more pervasive, it lets us provide higher efficiency and effectiveness at a lower cost.GCN: What IT skills do agencies most need? And is the CIO Council doing anything specifically?
HOBBS: Three areas are universal across government in terms of need: program and project managers, enterprise or solution architects, and cybersecurity specialists. Those are three areas any agency will have in their top five.GCN: Is there a need for enterprise architects and cybersecurity specialists because they are newer areas, or have agencies' interests in these areas increased?
HOBBS: There always has been a need, but with an added emphasis from the prosecution of a war. The fact that we are dealing with highly sophisticated adversaries who are using the Internet as a vehicle to carry out potential threats against this country makes our need for vigilance in cybersecurity more acute.
A lot of our security people have developed in an ad hoc way. There has not yet been a specified training approach, so we are limited in our capacity. We need to increase our capacity at a fairly rapid pace.
Also, given the emphasis on capital planning and investment and business case development, our solution architects are critical to the process. We are being asked to be more accountable for the dollars and resources that we use, so we need people managing our projects that are trained to do that.
CALLAHAN: Those are the three areas that rise to the top when you look across the board.
The enterprise architecture perspective has given the federal government a rare opportunity because for the first time we have technology in alignment with the administration's desire for management change.
When you look at how agencies are conducting e-government and complying with the Government Paperwork Elimination Act, you see a real need to step beyond the architecture approaches of the past, which were specific to a given agency or to functions.
Now, solutions are governmentwide. We really are looking at coming up with business approaches to a particular function that crosses many federal entities. The approach to apply an architecture is remarkably different in scope from what it has been in the past.
That also drives the need for a different level of competence from what we have been planning and training people for.GCN: What is your committee doing about these needs?
HOBBS: We are working closely with OPM to develop a specific occupational series for project managers in the GS-2210 series job classification. We hope we will can roll out something in early fall that identifies those skills.
We can start designating and classifying the people who are good at this kind of activity across government. That is the first effort the committee is making.
Secondly, in the cybersecurity arena, we are joining the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board to look at the emerging Cyber Corps program. This is being jointly run by the board, the National Science Foundation and the National Security Agency.
We will be working to ensure that students graduating with degrees in information security are moved to areas in the federal government where they can help.
We also are developing programs that will help agencies build employee awareness and conduct technical training related to security.
We are working closely with the Office of Management and Budget's associate director for e-government and IT, Mark Forman, and others to train IT workers to become solution architects. I'm hopeful we will be able to announce positions when we hold the next virtual IT job fair.GCN: What e-government projects is the committee working on or paying close attention to?
HOBBS: We get tossed into a lot of different things in the context of building capacity for e-government training itself.
We are working closely with OPM and the National Defense University to develop a way to implement the cultural change that is needed for e-government to be successful.
We also are working with OPM on human resources initiatives that will have an impact on the federal IT work force. We are talking to them about the E-Recruitment and E-Learning initiatives, and passing along insights we have gathered over the last few years about what directions they should explore.GCN: What would you like to see Congress do to help agencies recruit, train and retain IT workers?
HOBBS: There are a slew of bills that deal with issues related to human resources. We cannot separate IT from these pieces of legislation.
A lot of the legislation out there can be traced back to the studies and other recommendations our committee has put forth. If there was anything I would like Congress to do, it would be to get on with it.
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) has sponsored a bill that would let IT workers in government exchange jobs with private-sector workers. Giving workers from both areas the experiences of the other side would be extremely valuable.