US CIO Council calls for higher pay and faster recruitment in IT roles

By on 17/06/2020
Uncompetitive pay structures, slow hiring processes and a lack of attention to work-force diversity risk making federal IT jobs unattractive to young digital professionals, the CIO Council says. (Image by Christina/wocintechchat.com via Unsplash).

The USA’s Federal Chief Information Officers (CIO) Council is calling on the government to implement a special pay system and improve recruitment processes for IT workers in order to attract top talent.

These are among ten recommendations in the council’s latest report, ‘Future of the Federal IT Workforce Update’ which looks at current issues and trends in the sector and suggests ways leaders can “prepare the 21st century IT workforce to optimise the business of government.”

Significantly, the report says the current pay structure is one of the biggest barriers to federal IT recruitment. “The current General Schedule (GS) pay system is both unable to adapt to the pace of technological change and unable to meet the expectations of the new generations of IT workers,” the authors say. “While professionals in the mid-ranges of the GS scale perform well compared with their private sector counterparts, entry-level positions and senior executives lag behind in compensation,” making it “especially hard to recruit and retain top talent.”

The time investment required by job seekers is also identified as a significant barrier to successful recruitment. “As of 2017, average time-to-hire was 106 days in government, compared with 22.9 days across the U.S.” the authors wrote. As a result, “government job announcements may not be attracting the best applicants due to the length, complexity, and arcane nature of the Federal hiring process.”

Risks and opportunities

The researchers interviewed industry and government IT experts, as well as reviewing existing policies, reports, studies and data relating to the field, over a period of nine months.

Issues identified include age, with only around a fifth of current employees under the age of 40. This makes it “imperative to bring in younger workers to fill open positions,” the report says. The report also notes that while there has been some progress in the representation of minority groups, the percentage of women in government IT has dropped in recent years.

The shift towards remote working has the potential to attract top talent no matter where they live, the report points out. “Collaborative technology will be a huge part of the IT workforce. We need an environment to help us talk to anyone, anywhere,” it says, while noting that cybersecurity will remain a priority.

Action points

As well as developing a new government-wide IT pay system, the report calls for government to adopt a competency-based classification model for all IT positions; create interdisciplinary procurement teams; make federal IT career paths more attractive to the workforce of the future; improve recognition for the best performers and innovators in federal IT; compare the effectiveness of IT workforce programmes with the private sector; expand existing pilot programs to improve recruiting efforts; increase adoption and the long-term impact of intra-governmental augmentation offerings; and employ more technical SMEs who are trained as project managers.

While there has been a significant focus on modernising federal legacy IT systems in recent years, the CIO Council notes that “the impact of these new IT resources is only as strong as the workforce that installs, operates, and maintains them.” As such, “the Federal Government must continue to prioritise a highly skilled and adaptable IT workforce in order to fulfil agency mission objectives and provide critical services to all Americans.”

From the horse’s mouth

The CIO Council’s findings chime with comments made last September by Edward Hartwig, deputy administrator of the US Digital Service, who has argued that recruitment processes should be built around “a fluid set of competences” rather than a tight person specification. Speaking at the Government Digital Summit, Hartwig explained that in USDS recruitment “we’ve stripped out the requirements that most people would look for. My director of engineering doesn’t have a college degree.”

Such flexibility in recruitment can also help boost digital teams’ diversity, he added, as people from some minority groups tend to have fewer formal qualifications and less experience of civil service recruitment processes. And diversity “makes for better products”, he argued, bringing in “different perspectives” and, often, a better understanding of service users’ needs. “We get a lot of white male engineers building something like Medicare – which doesn’t serve white male engineers,” he said.

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

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