Chief Information Officers across the nation agree there’s been an IT talent shortage for years. Can you imagine the bigger gap there is to fill in Hawaii, a state located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?
Since leading Hawaii’s Office of Enterprise Technology Services (ETS) as Chief Information Officer (CIO) in 2015, we’ve been working to find the right talent to fill vacancies in our division and have had to find creative and innovative solutions to attract and retain talented employees.
Filling the IT shortage has many challenges. When I first got onboard as CIO, the state’s unemployment rate was 3.8 percent, which is still relatively low compared to the rest of the country. Today, Hawaii’s unemployment rate is even lower at 2.0 percent, which the new historical rate on record dating back to 1976. With fewer people looking for jobs, the challenge is to find individuals with talent and skills that we need to fill our positions and to engage and develop our current workforce to retain the talent.
One of the difficulties of attracting IT talent to work in state government is the misperception of working with aging platforms and customized programs. What people don’t understand is that we are using the most modern applications such as Adobe, Microsoft, etc.
The tsunami of retirees anticipated in the next several years is expected to create a large skills gap. Doubling down on that challenge, we’re not able to hire people in those positions because those jobs are still being occupied by the people planning to retire. Therefore, with the loss of institutional knowledge, there wouldn’t be a transitional period for new employees filling those positions. The knowledge of those retiring may be lost as there would be no direct mentoring opportunities for the incoming employees.
"We encourage employees to do stretch assignments, coaxing them out of their comfort zones to develop their skills"
Finally, the talent pool is small. Finding the right talent to fill vacant positions has been challenging, especially because we’re geographically in a remote location. Unlike our mainland counterparts, we don’t have the luxury of pulling candidates from bordering states. Additionally, our new hires would have to decide to make that big move to Hawaii. When trying to fill mid to high-level positions, we anticipate that we would have to pull a candidate from the mainland or another company. However, doing so brings on another difficulty – the ability to offer a competitive salary while working with our budget constraints. We hope the benefits we provide and our value in professional development is enough to sway a candidate to join us.
We’ve been able to successfully interview candidates who have found our job listings traditionally, through our State’s Department of Human Resources and Development website. However, we were not receiving a large number of applications. So, we’ve had to take an innovative approach. We decided to partner with LinkedIn, the largest professional networking site in the world that has over half a billion members.
In 2015, the State had 29 open positions and was able to fill six of them from October to April, after only receiving an average of six applications per position. When the partnership with LinkedIn began, ETS garnered substantial results. With the LinkedIn pilot, we were able to bring on 13 people in six months. That translated into 42 percent of our vacancies being filled. Working with LinkedIn vastly increased the visibility of our job openings and increased the application rate, which brought an average of 60 applicants per job. While the partnership with LinkedIn does have a price tag, hiring a headhunter could potentially cost more. Through LinkedIn, we are able to showcase our brand to engage professional networks. They not only see our job postings and learn of employment opportunities within ETS, but they are able to view what we’re doing, how we are innovative.
We’ve also been able to find interested talent through organic outreach such as through our membership with professional organizations and our internship program. Our internship program has created a pipeline into our division. Some of our entry-level hires successfully completed an internship with us. We offer summer internships in IT and leadership and also have opportunities for students majoring in a business disciplines.
Another way we’ve been able to tap into the tech community here is through our Hawaii Annual Code Challenge (HACC) hackathon. The HACC engages Hawaii’s technology community in modernizing state functions and services and it also supports IT workforce development. The HACC provides an expanded four-week timeframe meant to encourage interaction between community teams and state department personnel, ultimately resulting in sustainable solutions that are appropriately matched with technologies and platforms in use or being considered by the state. This event promotes the state as an innovative hub, shedding the misconception that it is stagnant and aging.
Other strategies we implement in recruitment, which also plays a role in the retention of our employees, are our cultural values. The onboarding process includes reiterating our core values:
1. Employees are our greatest assets.
2. We value persistence and encourage growth.
3. We believe in the potential and development of our employees to add value and success to the organization.
These values not only define our organization’s culture and add to the recruitment for the best fit candidate but also aids in the retention of our employees. The investment we make in our employees for their training and development not only aids in their personal goals but, benefits our organization in having knowledgeable employees adding to the success and credibility of our organization. The next generation is going to look for an organization that fosters their continued development. We encourage employees to do stretch assignments, coaxing them out of their comfort zones to develop their skills.
Hiring the right talent is just the start to creating a strong workforce. The importance of retention is the investment in employees in time and money. We created several programs to help retain employees.
We offer opportunities for personal development to all employees. These sessions are voluntary and provide an opportunity for employees to gain skills and learn tools for their own development.
We offer professional development after an employee achieves a six-month probationary period. In this program, employees have the opportunity to travel to the mainland once a year to attend training and conventions within their job capacity. With technology changing so quickly, we support employees who have the desire to keep abreast of the latest developments.
We also offer opportunities for employees to earn certifications. We believe in the importance of our employees updating their skills and staying current with the new and emergent technology. Employees are encouraged to earn their certifications in the area of their profession. It adds to their professional creditability and expertise. It also provides an opportunity for our employees to submit for a salary increase because of their professional growth. If an employee passes their exam they are reimbursed for the cost.
Civil servants have the chance to apply for salary increases outside of a step movement. It includes a 360 review of the past twelve (12) months and depending on their justification for their submission, such as professional growth, they would also need to speak to how they helped in the development of their peers and how they were cost efficient for the state of Hawaii. In applying for the adjustment, they can submit certifications earned within that review period. Civil service employees have the opportunity to apply every twelve (12) months, if their justification falls within the categories for a salary adjustment.
We also create career paths for employees. We offer many opportunities on a day-to-day basis for employees to grow, such as mentoring or shadowing opportunities, stretch assignments, and other learning opportunities throughout the organization. When vacancies arise, we seek individuals whom we believe would be able to fulfill the role before looking outside of our organization. That way we retain a valuable employee instead of watching them leave for another company.