Building an IT Workforce - Finding talent in all the Right Places

Building an IT Workforce - Finding talent in all the Right Places

By Jim Smith, CIO, State of Maine

Jim Smith, CIO, State of Maine

I was at a meeting recently where …
CIOs from several Maine companies said cyber security is the greatest risk they face.

I was at a meeting recently where …
CIOs from several Maine companies said they cannot find or keep mid seniority cyber resources

What is a CIO / CISO / CTO to do in a world where every year, there are 30,000 US cybersecurity jobs that go unfilled? What are we to do in a world where the National Institute of Standards (NIST) estimates that there were 285,000 cybersecurity job openings in March, 2018.

And, for IT, it is not just cyber jobs. With the national unemployment rate hovering around 4percent, it is a challenge to find qualified IT candidates in many disciplines – from project management, to DBAs, to specialized developers to disaster recovery specialist. And to add to the challenge, now we are losing those baby boomers that are heading to a retirement of grandchildren and golf courses. For the State of Maine Executive branch, 24 percent of our IT resources are eligible to retire. That is thousands of years of experience leaving the building. To replace one quarter of your technical workforce requires a new, robust approach to recruiting and retention. What is a CIO / CISO / CTO to do?

There are several pathways, both traditional and new, but at a strategic level, organizations must improve their recruiting process (help the candidate find you), communicate their brand (what is exciting about the job?). How do you find today’s job seekers?

Internships. Internships are not new, but they are quickly evolving. The intern of yesterday, who made the copies and watched others to learn the job, is gone; today’s interns are writing production code, gauging cyber risks, building and mining data bases. And they give organizations a vital link to their generation.

At the State of Maine, we rebuilt our technical intern program over the last couple of years. It is now a formal program, with regular recruiting visits to colleges, technical interview teams, and meaningful work assignments.

And, we tie it into our ‘brand’. Every organization has a unique brand; for us at the State of Maine, it is being a government entity. In one example, we assembled a group of interns, give them a business program (to improve the recruiting workflow), gave them a mentor, and a couple of months to research the issue and present a proposal. And then we had them present their proposal to the Governor. There were some nervous 20-year-old interns presenting to the Governor, but they did a great job and their proposal was accepted. They could tell fellow students back at University – ‘I presented to the Governor last summer’.

For us, the results are evident – over 70 percent of our interns have accepted full time jobs with us.

Veterans. As an effort to reach Veterans we participated in the State of Maine’s Hire-A-Veteran campaign. The initiative was a partnership with the Maine’s Bureau of Veteran Affairs, Department of Labor, and companies across Maine to focus on hiring Veterans. The goal was to hire 100 veterans in 100 days. In the first year, the Office of Information Technology hired over 50 percent of the veterans who applied for IT jobs.

We our own OIT Veteran Apprenticeship Program. The program provides an experienced IT employee as a mentor early on, and get the newly hired veteran upskilled quickly on our IT systems. We partner with Military recruiters who send us the resumes of Veterans who possess some IT skills. The military provides the workforce leadership skills, and we evolve their IT technology business skills. This program has been an inspiration to our workforce. Our employees who are veterans are eager to mentor “one of their own” and the camaraderie seems to begin immediately.

Girls to IT. In 2018, The Maine Office of Information Technology, and the Maine Department of Education participated in the ‘Girls Go CyberStart Program’. The national program is from the SANS Institute; it offers training to high school women who want to learn more about cybersecurity and information technology careers. Students from all over Maine participated in the event.

Mentorships. The real success behind our programs are the employees who provide the mentorship, training, and guidance to the newly hired candidates. These programs are an effective approach to workforce development, and provide an opportunity for IT staff and mid-level managers to further develop advanced IT and leadership skills.

Apprenticeships– ‘What is a CIO … CISO … CTO.. to do ‘to find cyber resources? There are many more job openings than there are candidates. It may be time for organizations to more actively ‘build their own’ cyber resources. One approach, one we are reviewing at the State of Maine, is to build a cyber security apprenticeship program. Apprenticeship programs are now being used for more ‘white collar’ jobs; we have seen this transition already in some European counties; in the US. the federal government and some states are also expanding in this way. An apprenticeship program is the opportunity for a person to get both a job and an education. Typically, the program is overseen by either the Federal Department of Labor or the state Department of Labor, to ensure quality and consistency.

Community Outreach – Energizing the new generation of IT resources.

OIT TechNight is an event to educate students to the possibilities of Information Technology as a career path.

Students have fun with hands-on activities such as project management, team building, performing forensics and programming. And, of course, we serve pizza.

We all share the challenge of finding and keeping resources in a world of ‘full employment’; a world where the need for technical resources continues to grow rapidly; and a world where a significant percentage of senior IT resources are retiring. They entered the working world writing COLBOL code and working on mainframes; they retire from that world writing mobile applications for tablets, and fighting cyber intrusions. Now it is time for the next tech generation to have their journey. Our job will be to match the talent to the opportunities. And the talented resources will come from many different areas – our job is to find them.

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