Connecting state and local government leaders

How to Keep Key Talent Attracted to State Workforces


Connecting state and local government leaders

Employees are an investment, even if they are short term, a reality state CIOs must accept.

WASHINGTON — State government no longer holds the power in employer-employee relationships, and the sooner it embraces that fact the faster it can address the talent gap stymying chief information officers’ success.

In Georgia, Human Resources Administration Deputy Commissioner Candy Sarvis has a close working relationship with the state’s chief information officer—they’re in each other’s offices at least twice weekly—collaborating on the issues impacting the state’s IT infrastructure.

Advances in technology have seen short-term employment supplant long-term employment and employees willing to accept lower pay for pensions replaced with millennials desiring training for their next job three to four years down the road.

“The force is no longer with you, in other words,” Sarvis told a room full of state IT officials during her Building the State Workforce of the Future session at the National Association of State Technology Directors 2016 annual conference in the nation’s capital.

The number of state positions is going down year over year, she said, with reducing the size of government being a driving mission for Georgia’s Republican governor, Nathan Deal.

And though public workforce turnover is starting to level off, two out of every three employees are quitting voluntarily.

“We don’t have problems attracting the millennials,” Sarvis said. “We just have problems keeping them.”

Adding to Georgia’s challenges is the fact the Department of Administrative Services’ Human Resources Administration Division is governed by a constitutional board, and most of its technology is decentralized—making it tough to piece together data to tell a story about what’s going on with the workforce.

What Sarvis does know is that technology is outpacing expertise, which states can address long term through strategic relationships with colleges and other schools but still require a short-term fix for.

One question states need to answer is why their last hire came to work for them in the first place, she said, because knowing that can help them attract the next job candidate.

IT positions increasingly contribute to the revenue side of government, but they’re still largely seen as support roles. Breaking that perception means CIOs must align their workforce needs with the broader goals of law enforcement, health care, social services or education.

“Those are the four big things that you are competing with,” Sarvis said.

A good supervisor-to-employee ratio is one-to-five for complex IT tasks and one-to-10 more generally, she said.

State government is a “world of white collar jobs”—doctors, lawyers, nurses, anthropologists, psychologists, and CIOs among them—and it should be sold to prospective employees as that, Sarvis added. Job mission statements should be compelling.

“Do they read like obituaries?” Sarvis asked.

Broadening the talent pool is often as simple as looking at forgotten demographics like disabled veterans, who come military-trained and with their minds still intact. Moms returning to the workforce are another often-untapped segment of the workforce, Sarvis said.

Looking at Georgia’s workforce data, the Human Resources Division identified one state agency having trouble keeping a particular entry-level position filled longer than nine months—a huge training sunk cost.

Once government has attracted the talent it’s after, it needs to assign them a mentor, uncover their leadership style and stress triggers, embed them in agencies to learn, run a skills gap analysis, and provide them regular feedback and social interaction. That’s how you keep them, Sarvis said.

“Start investing in them early,” she said.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and based in Washington D.C.

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