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Can Agencies Keep Up With Technological Advancement?

Technology is evolving at a fast rate and many government agencies struggle to find new talent or resources to keep up with the latest tech trends. According to the American Staffing Association, 76 percent of organizations say technology is outpacing employees’ knowledge, directly impacting the current skills gap in available talent. As technology changes, so does the workforce. So, how can agencies future-proof their organizations against the need to constantly hire new talent?

In a recent GovLoop online training, , Dr. Tom Tonkin, Principal of Change Management and Transformation Thought Leadership and Advisory Services at Cornerstone OnDemand, and Nicole Blake Johnson, Managing Editor at GovLoop, explained how adaptive talent management is the key to organizational success in a time where technology is constantly evolving.

The Public-Sector Workforce Today

In government, a lot of employees are considering early retirements and many agencies are shrinking their workforce. The early retirement of civil employees results in an overall smaller civil workforce as well as a gap in knowledge. “There are employees who have been in government for years who developed agency-related skill sets and knowledge,” Blake-Johnson explained. “These people, in a sense, have become institutions because of the familiarity they have with the agency. It becomes a challenge for the agencies to fill the knowledge gap that this creates.”

In order to fill this knowledge gap, agencies are hoping to increase retainment of current employees as well as seek tech-savvy new hires and applicants that can help push organizations into the future by bridging the gap in tech knowledge.

Millennials and the Tech Knowledge Gap

 Currently, the government is seeking to close the knowledge gap by recruiting and training new talent. Agencies also hope that a few fresh-faces can push government tech innovation forward. However, in order to recruit new employees, government will have to make a few adjustments.

“Things are changing and therefore much of the workforce is changing as far as expectations are concerned,” Tonkin said. “We not only have a workforce that is retiring, but we also have a new workforce that is taking over across multiple generations.”

“We are starting to see younger employees who may not have been seeking a government position, but have the passion for the mission and want to get involved provided that there is an opening for them,” Blake-Johnson said.

But these younger applicants are not looking for long-term positions. According to Blake-Johnson, most are hoping for shorter, 2-year stints to kick-start their careers. “Employers have to rethink their expectations for how long an employee will stay in government,” Blake-Johnson said. “Agencies should consider what can be done in that short period of time in terms of investing in the employee’s skill sets, but also on the agency level.”

Tonkin believes that agencies need to better establish recruitment strategies that target younger applicants. “The reason people are unsure about their strategy to recruit millennials is either because they don’t have one or don’t see any evidence of one,” Tonkin said. “Most likely there is a strategy in place, but there isn’t a conscientious view of it.”

Dynamics Between Generations

Once more millennial employees are hired in government, how can agencies encourage a positive dynamic between the younger workforce and the more established employees?

“We rely on our older generation for institutional knowledge,” Tonkin said. “You need to understand where things have been to explain how things are today.” According to Tonkin, employers assume that older employees can only offer institutional knowledge when a lot of them are more than capable of adjusting to emerging technology.

“It is important to focus on the ability to share insights,” Tonkin added. “Someone who keeps up with technological trends shares their knowledge with someone who can contribute institutional knowledge. Both add value, but I think agencies tend to put more value into understanding technology but not into institutional knowledge.”

Tips to Engage and Retain Employees

  • Offer flexibility. Blake-Johnson said it is important for organizations to figure out what pushes their employees to perform their best work. “Work is not about where an employee is located. It’s really about what they do,” she said. “It’s possible that the work will benefit from giving employees more flexibility and opportunities for telework.”
  • Give employees responsibilities. Blake-Johnson said that passion projects give employees the opportunity to perform work that may be outside of their normal responsibilities, therefore increasing engagement while also contributing to the organization’s mission. “Let’s say an employee is in IT but has a passion for data analytics,” she said. “An organization should figure out how that employee can weave IT and data analytics together in a way that it can help the mission.”
  • Provide feedback. Tonkin stressed the importance of real-time performance. “Many of us just want to be acknowledged on the work that we do and our efforts,” he said. “People want to continue to improve, they want to be empowered in their career development.”
  • Ask questions. Tonkin noticed that in order to make positive changes that will draw in more applicants or retain current employees, organizations first have to acknowledge that something needs to change. “Sometimes people like to gravitate to the past, but you have to ask the tough questions,” he said.

The Future of the Workforce

With the retirement tsunami and influx of millennial applicants, what will be the impact of the speed of technological progress in the next few years?

“We’re finally getting to a point where the human race is having a hard time adapting to technological changes,” Tonkin said. “Even people who are younger and grew up with technology find themselves feeling behind.”

Tonkin explained that there is a lack of synchronicity between human adaption and technological adaptation, and technology is starting to pull ahead. A lot of people are aware of this fact are fearful of how the adoption of technology will affect their careers.  “80 percent of people are worried that something like artificial intelligence will increase unemployment,” Tonkin said. “But technology has actually created more jobs than anything in the last 144 years.”

Instead of being fearful that new technology will put people out of a job, employees should recognize that their contribution to government may change, but will not be eliminated. “The job that an employee currently has may not necessarily be needed, but there will be other jobs that will be created because of new technology.”

If anything, jobs are becoming more interesting and diverse as a result of technology. “Because of technology, jobs are more synergistic in different scales,” Tonkin concluded. “Trends are moving so quickly so I suggest people inform themselves. Learn different skills and learn the ability to discern between what technology can help the mission and what’s not helpful.”

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