Uncle Sam hunts Purple Squirrels too

In 2011, in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, Wharton School’s Peter Cappelli torpedoed the “skills gap” excuse for high unemployment. “With an abundance of workers to choose from, employers are demanding more of job candidates than ever before. They want prospective workers to be able to fill a role right away, without any training or ramp-up time. In other words, to get a job, you have to have that job already.” [1] It’s a phenomena familiar to almost anyone who’s perused job boards.


If you tl;dr Alex Howard’s blog post “New study details technology deficit in government and civil society“, you’re likely to miss a big warning sign to the future of American tech policy (I did). It’s a write-up of Friedman Consulting’s interview-based survey, “A future of Failure? The Flow of Technology Talent into  Government and Civil Society“, which explores the challenges of recruiting IT-skilled workers to public-interest employers.

Failure to attract tech workers to civil service will harm policy-making and hamper efforts to make government more efficient and responsive. The barriers to success, however, are financial, cultural, social, organizational… practically insurmountable without concerted vision and effort. In the links above, Alex Howard and Friedman Consulting make the case better than I will, but if you’re in tech, government, policy, or academia, the nation needs your eyes on this issue.

After finishing the report, I had some questions and thoughts.

  1. How great is the need? At what career levels? Recruiting target: 1K? 1M? % fresh grads vs C-suite?
  2. Good ideas on solutions but kinda light on actions to implement them. What’s the 5-point plan? Campus visits and…?
  3. It’s implied, but there’s not much discussion of an HR inventory assessment. There are tech skills outside IT offices. Fellowships & political appointment may get PhDs & C-levels but will never develop GS-5s who builds mobile apps for fun. If this is systemic problem, open the job vacancies at all career levels (not just >GS-12) and put them on a career track.
  4. The interviewee list is NGO-heavy, dotGov-light. If these findings are going to get addressed at the federal level, they need to be before OPM & Congress, where HR policy is made real.
  5. I get the impression that Silicon Valley, military contracting & finance booms are causing a form of Dutch Disease. “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.” etc.
  6. Career dev/retention sections reflect many of the reasons I left the service: tech/policy interests, but a narrow career track without options to develop those interests.

OPM: Workforce Planning Elements of End-to-End Hiring Roadmap
OPM Migration Planning Workforce Planning Best Practices
DOD Net Generation: Preparing for Change in the Federal Information Technology Workforce; Forecast of Future Labor Supply and Demand 
DOD Net Generation; End Notes
Where the Jobs Are 2009
Digest of Educational Statistics 2008 
New York State IT Workforce and Leadership Profiles
Partnership for Public Service (publication search)