US launches Digital Corps to attract young talent

By on 06/09/2021 | Updated on 06/09/2021
The GSA says there will be an emphasis on ensuring the diversity of Digital Corps recruits in terms of both gender and ethnicity. Photo courtesy Canva Studio via Pexels

The US government has launched a new fellowship programme for aspiring IT professionals that aims to develop a new generation of tech leaders for the federal public service.

The programme – styled the US Digital Corps – will offer two-year, paid fellowships in government departments and agencies to entry-level talent with skills in critical IT fields such as software engineering, data science, design, and cybersecurity.

Hosted by the General Services Administration (GSA), the initiative has been jointly developed by five major federal government bodies, including the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Office of Personnel Management.

“The federal government has so many important and exciting problems to solve – in science, in technology, in digital innovation – that affect the lives of millions of people across America,” said Dr Eric Lander, science adviser to President Biden and director of the OSTP.

“I’m thrilled to see the creation of the US Digital Corps as a way to give early-career people from all backgrounds the opportunity to serve the country, make a difference, and be a part of something bigger than themselves.”

Recruitment will begin in the autumn for the first 30 posts in federal agencies including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Centers for Medicare and Medicaid; Veterans Affairs; and GSA. The positions are due to start next year.

Candidates will be drawn from leading undergraduate programmes as well as alternative training pathways such as apprenticeships, bootcamps, and certificate programmes, with an emphasis on ensuring diversity in terms of gender, race and ethnicity, according to the GSA. No prior work experience is required.

Fellows will be matched with agencies based on their skillsets and interests and will work on high-impact projects that address priority areas for the administration: coronavirus response, economic recovery, cybersecurity and streamlining government services.

The federal government has an ageing workforce, with 44% of civilian employees aged 50 or over, while just 6% are under 30 years old. Analysts say the problem of attracting young talent is particularly acute in tech posts, due to the strong demand for IT skills across the economy and sharp disparity between public and private sector pay.

Federal chief information officer Clare Martorana said: “Technology enables mission delivery across government. To provide best-in-class service delivery, agencies must have the right combination of workforce talent in place as their existing personnel accelerate towards retirement.”

The US Digital Corps will form part of the GSA’s Technology Transformation Services unit, which runs 18F, a digital consulting service, and the Presidential Innovation Fellowship, a 12-month scheme that pairs top IT professionals with civil servants to tackle big challenges.

In related news, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is setting up a special career track for its cybersecurity service, with opportunities, benefits and salaries that diverge from the General Schedule for federal employees, in a bid to attract top-flight candidates.

The DHS cyber talent management system is set to recruit entry-level, mid-career and experienced cyber professionals to both temporary and permanent posts, with salaries set in relation to market rates, subject to a cap of US$255,800 per year. DHS regulations governing the new system are due to go into effect on 15 November.

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London. She worked on daily newspapers for more than 16 years as an education correspondent, section editor and general news reporter. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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