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Brace Yourself for the IT Department Brain Drain (Part One)

Brain Drain (see also Human Capital Flight)- The flight of talented, creative, and highly qualified technical employees from agencies that occurs when employees perceive the direction and leadership of the agency to be regressive, or stagnant, or when workers perceive better pay, benefits, or upward mobility within another company or industry.

We often write about trends on this blog. One worrying trend, apparent in agency IT departments all over the US is brain drain. I found some research and had some conversations with clients and there is concern about the shortage of millennials and Gen Z interested in agency employment:

“A study conducted by the Wisconsin School of Business argues that nationwide, a lack of young workers is becoming more and more of an issue as an aging workforce comes closer to retirement. The average age for a government employee in the U.S. is 47 years old, and data indicates 52% of public workers are 45 to 64 years compared to 42.4 % in the private sector. State government job postings rose 11% from 2013 to 2017, while the number of people applying to state jobs dropped by 24%.”

Unfortunately, for IT departments, there are positions such as systems and networking that need to be onsite to keep the “lights on.” In the future, if not now, technology departments will struggle to keep roles filled. Some staff who worked from home during the pandemic may not return. Prospective employees will expect increased compensation which will impact budgeting. Agency technology leaders will need to build the IT organization of the future with these issues in mind. Here are some ideas I had to address staffing:

  • Offer internships and apprenticeships- Internships are a great way to offer students an audition for a future role. My marketing consultant found the best data analyst she’s ever worked with by hiring an MBA student with an innate curiosity for an internship. Also, consider looking for interns with skills in math or physics rather than limit yourself to the traditional CS degree. Another approach is to consider returning students or veterans for apprenticeship roles.

  • Rethink qualifications and upskilling- While I’m a big advocate for education, does your systems and networking person really need a four-year degree? Could an associate degree w/ some Microsoft certifications work? What about a candidate with the skills you require learned while in the military, but no degree.

Candidates with finance backgrounds are another option as often the ERP is the critical enterprise application for the agency and financial processes are frequently automated. Financial skills and business sense will benefit the IT department in helping to apply technology in ways that will transform the overall agency.

  • Decentralized IT or Insourcing- Every few decades agencies find themselves needing to transform the way they contain and manage the IT department. For a while, the trend was completely outsourcing the department to a computer service provider. But that practice was very expensive. Once IT was placed in-house again, we saw the creation of the business analyst position––who was frequently embedded in various business units. One practice I think we’ll be seeing more of is that the departments will be responsible for owning the business technology. We’re already seeing it with Laserfiche implementations. A departmental staff member is assigned to Laserfiche, and we train them up and they test and qualify for various Laserfiche certifications

  • Continuous feedback performance management- Regular feedback empowers people to reset goals continuously, change projects, and feel rewarded for their “work,” not just their “job.” Employee survey tools give managers immediate input on their own performance, boosting transparency.



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