, , ,

6 Ways the Government is Trying to Reskill Its Workforce

Take in this bombshell of a statistic, from Ken Cummins of Professional Services Council: there are 15 times more federal IT workers in government today over the age of 50 than there are under the age of 30.

In short, the government IT workforce is rapidly approaching a retirement tsunami, and a potential crisis in hiring, retainment and recruitment.

So what’s the government to do?

The reskilling and recruitment of new federal IT workers was a hot topic at a recent AFFIRM luncheon, Federal Technology 2019 and Beyond: Building for Innovation. Kevin Cummins, Vice President of Technology, PSC, joined Dorothy Aronson, Chief Information Officer, National Science Foundation and GovLoop’s own Nicole Blake Johnson for a spirited discussion on everything from IT modernization to acquisition to the recruitment, reskilling and retaining of the government workforce.

The NSF is tackling the issue head-on through an initiative they’ve recently set up on Challenge.gov. Aronson promoted the NSF’s Career Compass Challenge, which offers the following hypothesis: “Technology is changing the way we do our work, and the work itself. To keep up, the National Science Foundation (NSF) plans to invest in its most critical resource – the workforce. And it’s not just NSF. The need for an adaptable and ready workforce extends to other Federal agencies and beyond. No industry will be immune to the way advances in technology change the nature of work. As a pressing example, we are facing critical gaps in matching people with data science and cybersecurity skills with the right mission needs. NSF believes that, along with other agencies and organizations, the best way to maintain a workforce ready to carry out its mission is to encourage a culture of continuous learning, and to empower each person to refresh and modernize their skills toward future work. We want to spark the thinking of the best and brightest to co-create a solution that can enable individual skill-matching and tailored training for the Workforce for the 21st Century.”

According to the challenge page, Solvers are asked to submit a concept white paper that describe a solution to the challenge of continuous workforce reskilling and the desire for increased mobility within and between NSF and other Federal agencies (and perhaps even the private sector), as an example.  Solvers are asked to think creatively about methods that go beyond the traditional “career path” thinking and “strategic workforce planning” methodology when exposing future skill needs or opportunities for an individual’s consideration when choosing a development path.  Solvers are also asked to consider relevant research on adult cognition and reskilling, particularly for those that must “work” and “learn” simultaneously.

So what else is the government doing across the board to deal with this workforce crisis? Here are five other concepts that have recently been launched to try to address the problem:

Cybersecurity Reskilling: The White House recently announced the Federal Cybersecurity Reskilling Academy pilot program, which launched Nov. 30, is to provide a three-month training course for non-IT professionals in government and prepare them to ultimately work as cyber defense analysts. Read more here.

Modernizing how federal employees use tech and data: The government is developing its first-ever Federal Data Strategy to serve as a foundation for how its workforce uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning for managing vast amounts of information. Federal Chief Information Officer Suzette Kent said modernizing how federal employees use technology is essential to crafting the government’s data strategy. “A critical part of the PMA is transforming the workforce of today into a workforce where almost every job has a technology element,” she said. “We have to look at the tools we give our workforce and how we train our workforce to be successful in that space,” Kent added. “It’s not just reskilling but defining those skills we’ll need for the 21st century.” Kent said completing the Federal Data Strategy would enable AI and machine learning implementation, freeing up government employees for other tasks. Read more here.

Free online trainings: The Federal Virtual Training Environment (FedVTE), hosted by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies, offers free training for government personnel and veterans looking to gain an education around IT. FedVTE contains more than 800 hours of training on topics such as ethical hacking and surveillance, risk management and malware analysis.

Partnering for cyber capabilities in DoD: The Defense Digital Service (DDS) announced in October the expansion of an initiative to cultivate and engage technical talent in the Army by bringing together skilled cyber soldiers and top civilian technologists to rapidly build cyber capabilities. “It has never been more important for the U.S. military to rapidly evolve technical capabilities to outpace adversarial threats,” said DDS Director Chris Lynch in a release. “Recruiting, supporting, and retaining technical talent in the military can present unique challenges from training, to compensation, to ensuring opportunities for growth and engagement in a quickly evolving field.”

A public-private laboratory to build a better government: The Government Effectiveness Advanced Research (GEAR) Center is a non-governmental applied research lab that would pilot new methods for providing citizen services and other pressing government issues. “Thinking about how we do government business in the 21st century requires 21st century innovation to figure it out,” said Office of Budget and Management (OMB) Deputy Director Margaret Weichert. “We’re looking for some people who might not normally come together, whether it’s technologists and public policy people, academics or business people. Ultimately, I think the sky’s the limit.”

July 2018 OMB press release said that the center would be a public-private partnership bringing together computer science, design and economics experts for brainstorming ideas for government. “Through applied research and live pilot testing, the GEAR Center would connect today’s challenges with cutting-edge solutions,” it said. “With a key focus on data, IT investments and reskilling our workforce, this center would help government catch up and lay the groundwork for where our operations and services need to be years to come.” Read more here.

Given that reskill and redeploying human capital resources are both key components of the President’s Management Agenda (PMA), we can certainly expect to see more reskilling efforts for the federal workforce coming down the pike. What is your agency doing to reskill, retrain and recruit? Tell us in the comments.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Avatar photo Spencer Grady-Pawl

Hopefully a young work force can bring some exciting new ideas with them–I’ll be interested to see how they impact government IT culture/practices.


As long as IT is outsourced and disconnected from the end users the problems will continue to mount. It doesn’t matter how good someone is at database development, if they don’t understand the data itself or how the end user uses the data, the systems will not function optimally for the users. Internal CX/UX has to be the starting point instead of an afterthought.