Of the People: Richard Simmons has a lot to teach IT managers

Ira Hobbs

HERSHEY, Pa.'A couple of experiences at this month's Interagency Resources Management Conference made me shake my head in amazement. But each in its own way got me pumped about my work as a federal manager.

One experience was introducing Richard Simmons as the breakfast speaker on the last day of the conference. Yes, that Richard Simmons, in his trademark tank top and striped shorts, screeching and yelling to the audience in the endearing way that has made him a star. The audience loved it. He was really into his message regarding the positive benefits of exercise and health.

The IRMCO crowd was roaring its approval and flocking on stage to follow him, all before I had the chance to make my intro. I literally had to grab the microphone from him and sit him back down so I could do my job. Talk about enthusiasm!

My other inspiring IRMCO experience was leading a panel on using IT to recruit and develop the federal IT work force. While neither we on the panel nor the audience were dressed like Richard Simmons, everyone jumped at the opportunity to discuss their ideas.

The starting point for our discussion was the government's successful Virtual IT Job Fair held this past spring. For the first time, people seeking IT jobs with the government were able to go online and easily apply for open positions in many agencies.

To many at the IRMCO session, this concept is a no-brainer. We already knew it could help us dramatically cut the time required to hire someone from months to weeks or days. We also knew that a test of skills is far more accurate than a resume, and that a certification tells more about a person's ability than the typical Knowledge, Skills and Abilities essays will ever reveal. The government just took too long to embrace these ideas.

We also talked about IT tools that can help agencies retain and retrain employees. One of these tools, online skills certification, is gaining acceptance and popularity in industry, but remains a hit-or-miss proposition in government.

Just think what it would mean if instead of simply certifying applicants' attendance at a training course, you could test and certify them in specific topics or technologies, all online. Such benefits would augment the very tangible benefits of online training itself.

Finally, we talked about the work managers must do to make the use of these tools as common in government as it appears to be in the private sector. The theme from our dialogue was: Let's get on with it. Executives and supervisors need to start using these tools today.

When you get right to it, that message isn't so very different from that of Richard Simmons, which is perhaps why I was so inspired by his message: Do it today, not tomorrow. Start dancing those pounds off right now.

What a message for the IT community. Let's stop dwelling on the reasons why we cannot make IT integral to building an ideal work force, and instead focus on the best ways to just get it done. We know it's the right thing to do. I am going to finish up today those things I feel certain I need to do. What about you?

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

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