WASHINGTON — Workforce gaps for IT professionals in government have worsened in some areas, which may create challenges for federal agencies to fully embrace modernization, according to analysis shared at the Professional Services Council’s 2022 Vision Federal Market Forecast conference on Dec. 7.

Growth in federal civilian IT spending has increased steadily over the last few years, creating a need for stable talent within agencies. But workforce gaps may hinder agencies’ abilities to fully embrace modernization.

For one, telework remains a decisive factor in attrition. Vision volunteers, who are not named because they provided analysis on behalf of PSC, noted there are expectations around having flexible work options by employees. An industry report by Cisco showed 64% of workers said that whether they stay or leave a job depends on how much flexibility they have in their work environment.

“It’s here, it’s real,” said a Vision participant during Wednesday’s panel. “Hybrid work is not going away, and developing more effective user capabilities [is] going to be necessary to retain employees because they have many options going forward.”

Another issue is that the pipeline for young IT talent has been neither strong nor effective, Vision participants said, and the age gap has widened.

In the last five years, there was a 2.6% increase in the number of workers over the age of 60. The under-30 workforce only increased by 1%.

Overall, by the end of 2020, employees under 30 accounted for less than 7% of the full-time federal workforce, according to data by the Partnership for Public Service.

Analysis shared during PSC’s conference also showed a relationship between the well-documented gender gap and turnover.

The number of employees who identify as female have shrunk in the workforce over the last five years, making up less than 7% of the new growth in IT talent. This population is smaller, yet also exhibits more promising retention.

“If you look at the IT professionals that identified as male between 2009 and current, they were at least three times more likely to quit than those that identified as female,” said a PSC volunteer during the panel.

Congress and the White House have weighed in through legislation, guidance and programming aimed at filling the gaps. Solutions have included direct-hire authorities granted to agencies, internships and fellowships, and bringing in consultants or incorporating details within or between agencies.

Despite that, the Government Accountability Office found that “federal agencies have not made planning for their IT workforce a priority — despite 20 years’ worth of laws and guidance that have called for them to do so.”

At the Department of Defense, the outlook is similar.

PSC volunteers discussing IT at the Pentagon noted that experts in complex fields don’t “pop up overnight” and require training and mentorship.

Moreover, a May report by the Defense Business Board found that civilian professional development is not considered a priority by the department.

Persistent vacancies and short-term tenures in top-level human capital management positions make it difficult to affect change for a department so large, the report found.

“The Defense Business Board review found that DoD does not invest nearly enough its civilian workforce, and it’s to the detriment of the department as it moves to become a technological powerhouse in things like AI, software, space operations and positioning, navigation and timing,” said a PSC volunteer during a panel.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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