The problem of shrinking pools of available talent including people with top-end technology skills is widely acknowledged across the entire public sector ecosystem.
Perhaps one of the two biggest problems is that the shortage exists both inside the government itself and the industry that supports those agencies.
Federal agencies and contractors also are in competition with one another for the same set of people and that compounds the matter, as a panel of veteran industry observers noted Thursday at the Professional Services Council’s Vision Conference.
“They can pull different levers to address it,” said Eric Chewning, former chief of staff to the defense secretary.
But here is one lever that both sets of employers can pull in common, according to Chewning: Gaining an understanding of why employees leave for another job.
In laying out that gap in understanding, Chewning cited research that indicates 40 percent of all workers in all industries are “at least somewhat or likely” to leave their job over the next three-to-six months.
“When you interview the employees, what they’re saying is that they don’t feel like they have a sense of belonging, they’re frustrated by a lack of advancement, they don’t feel valued by their immediate managers,” Chewning said.
“But when you talk to the employers, they’re going to make comments around ‘Well, they’re getting poached and leaving for competition reasons.’”
Government customers are getting involved in the poaching too by hiring from contractors and that is “detrimental to industry,” added Pierre Chao.
“They’re literally going to the person in the seat and saying: you want to be a govvie?,” Chao said. “So that’s putting pressure and there’s tension going on live right now, that’s something to be addressed.”
Both statements by Chewning and Chao have truths to them: poaching of talent does happen across companies and industries because everyone wants the same high-end tech skills on their payrolls.
Further accelerating the move to hybrid or completely remote environments where applicable for a post-pandemic world is one adaptive mode that could be a boon to industry, Chao said.
“You’re seeing the changing — slowly — of attitudes and approaches of what has to done inside the building, inside the SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility), versus what can we let people do remotely,” Chao said.
What are companies in the government market doing about the talent challenge and also talking about it?
Anita Antenucci said both hardware-focused and services-oriented companies alike have re-examined their cost structures including facility footprints during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hardware companies have had to deal with COVID absences along with the overall pressures on employment and the economy, she said.
“Whether it’s reducing their footprint and (growing) into areas where that skilled labor is more available, that kind of consolidation or implementing automation, these are the kinds of things our overall industry can do,” Antenucci said.
“Software practices: that’s one way of automating tasks that have been labor hour-based in the past.”
About the Author
Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also connect with him on LinkedIn.
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