Top Federal technology leaders discussed the pressing need to address tech-sector workforce shortages at General Dynamics Information Technology’s Emerge 2021 digital modernization conference on April 6.

GDIT President Amy Gilliland and Deputy Federal CIO Maria Roat both tackled the issue in keynote addresses and pointed to its importance in both the private and public sectors.

“My number one concern, and therefore my number one priority, is retaining technical talent,” said Gilliland.

She ticked off a long list of transformative technologies that the private sector can provide to the government to modernize and better protect networks, but added, “the reality is, none of this gets accomplished if agencies do not have access to talent capable of adapting and applying technology to new requirements.”

“The war for talent, especially in our industry, is very real, as is attrition of technologists supporting government programs,” Gilliland said. She cited recent data showing that most holders of security clearances would be at least somewhat likely to change jobs within the next year.

“This tells us we can’t just focus on attracting new talent to our organizations,” she said. “We also need to continuously and intentionally re-recruit the talent we already have with an increased focus on career development” including additional tech training and opportunities for internal mobility “so these talented individuals remain a resource for our government customers.”

“It is incumbent on industry to prioritize the long-term mobility of employees, so they stay and grow in their careers while supporting government IT programs,” Gilliland said. Getting to that goal, she explained, requires both cultural and mindset changes. But “accepting short-term staffing disruptions” and internal transfers “is a worthwhile trade-off for the long-term success of our employees and customers,” Gilliland said.

Federal View

“The government needs to attract that new talent,” said Roat, who has held several top-level IT positions in the Federal government following a 26-year career in the United States Navy.

Acknowledging that talent shortages are “particularly acute in technology,” the Deputy Federal CIO delivered a robust pitch in favor of tech professionals undertaking government service.

“I can certainly speak from my years in the Federal government and also the private sector, you can support so many different missions and work on so many projects that you could never do in the private sector,” she said.

“It’s a pretty cool place to work, and we need to make the Federal government certainly a more attractive place to start your career, or even enter mid-career, whether you’re early mid-career, or you’re looking for a change,” she said. “It’s an exciting place to work.”

Roat also discussed some of the fruits of recent data science-focused reskilling efforts sponsored by the Federal CIO Council that aim to upskill the Federal workforce data community.

“We have a workforce, and we have a data community, but how do you move that community from data analytics and move it into the data science space and really start tackling those problems of unique importance to the Federal government,” she asked. The 60 participants in the effort “were really a diverse group of high-performing, high-potential employees, and they learned and applied data science techniques on enhancing data gathering analysis, data visualization, and getting to those informed data-driven decisions,” Roat said.

“I can say that I’m going to get a whole bunch of briefs on their capstone projects because we’re six months in and they’ve been working on projects, and I can’t wait … I’m going to be excited to see that over the course of the next few weeks,” the Deputy Federal CIO said.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.