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Can telework improve cybersecurity?

Federal officials gave high marks to the administration’s digital government strategy and telework initiatives in a recent survey, and the Mobile Work Exchange concluded that the future is bright for continued investment in technology to enable these efforts.

Yet in the same survey, 88 percent of human resource managers said they had an employee leave because of a lack of telework opportunities, and more than half said they had trouble landing the best candidates for a job because of teleworking restrictions. This makes federal agencies less competitive in the workforce marketplace at a time when another recent study by the RAND Corporation concluded that the shortage of cybersecurity professionals is a threat to national security.

“A shortage exists, it is worst for the federal government and it potentially undermines the nation’s cybersecurity,” said the RAND examination of the cybersecurity labor market. 

Although the report concluded that that the cybersecurity workforce shortage is “a crisis that requires and urgent remedy,” it also noted that work is underway to correct this situation and advised that “fears be tempered” on the subject.

Short-term shortages are likely to persist for some years, but the labor market eventually will correct itself in the long run with higher wages and more education and training programs.

In the meantime, however, employers will have to compete for a scarce resource. “Government agencies face a more difficult challenge, since their pay scales are constrained; they may therefore focus on hiring entry-level employees and training them,” the RAND report said.

Top-tier cybersecurity professionals can earn up to $250,000 a year in the private sector, according to the report, but federal salaries top out at a little more than $150,000, and most agencies have little flexibility in offering more money.

Government clearly will have to compete for these professionals in areas other than pay. Flexible working conditions, including the opportunity to be mobile on the job and telework, is one place agencies can improve their hiring and retention, the study by the Mobile Work Exchange suggested. Just about every study on the subject has shown that teleworking improves employee satisfaction.

Overall, the survey of 154 federal executives gave the government a B- in pursuing digital government initiatives, and a B+ on telework, and nearly 70 percent of respondents reported a positive return on their telework investments. But culture and resistance from managers remain roadblocks to fully taking advantage of the benefits of telework, ahead of security, technology and funding concerns.

The study estimated that the government has spent about $373 per worker – or $1.6 billion total – providing technology to enable a more mobile workforce, primarily by supplying laptops, smartphones and management software. But if frontline managers do not embrace the idea of a mobile workforce, agencies are likely to continue having trouble in hiring the best young people for entry level positions and have even more trouble hanging on to them after they have been trained and have become experienced professionals.

Posted by William Jackson on Jun 27, 2014 at 12:46 PM


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