Last year, the United States Space Force released its strategy for educating its guardians (IT professionals) on all things digital.
The strategy includes a Digital University, software development and immersive pipelines to train and educate its workforce to operate in a digital environment, including all aspects of cybersecurity, coding, data, and artificial intelligence (AI).
The Space Force is also using recruitment to fill its ranks with digitally savvy people and aims to be more technically attuned than any other service.
Although a significant undertaking, it isn’t impossible for other federal, state and local agencies to achieve the same level of digital fluency.
As they seek to attract and develop top IT talent, here are three best practices agencies across the government can pursue.
1) Consider a Rotational Cyber Workforce Program
Agencies who lack the ability or budget needed to develop the breadth of training courses offered by the Space Force should instead consider cross-training IT pros within the organization.
It’s a best practice that the proposed Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program Act of 2021 relies on to address the federal cyber staffing crisis. If passed into law, the bill will enable government cybersecurity employees to gain experience outside a single position within a public office. The bill’s sponsors hope that as cybersecurity pros move between departments, agencies will benefit from knowledge transfer and collaborative efforts to combat advanced threats — while employees gain career enhancement and network-building opportunities.
Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will be charged with developing policies, processes and procedures for rotating employees currently employed in any IT or cyber-related function. Until then, IT and cyber leaders should begin to make the case for their agency’s participation in the program or, at the very least, establish a rotational digital workforce model internally.
2) Address the Soft Skills Gap
IT and cyber pros aren’t just technical experts. Government digital-first strategies mean they are called on to exhibit non-technical skills — aka “soft skills” or “people skills.” Among other things, these skills help them communicate the business impact of new digital strategies and lobby for additional resources.
However, because soft skills are rarely sought or nurtured among the public sector IT workforce, agencies must do all they can to close this gap and fill their ranks with soft skills that build careers and add value to the mission.
For instance, to ensure that teams understand the importance of a project, strong communication skills are essential. The digital workforce must appreciate the technical goals of any initiative and how it relates to the agency’s mission — and communicate that in non-technical terms, i.e., in business language. This is particularly critical if a project has cross-departmental impact and buy-in is needed from other stakeholders.
Collaboration skills must also be nurtured. Disparate teams must work effectively together in everyday interactions or through a rotational workforce program to ensure project success. It’s something that Space Force’s Deputy of the Chief Technology and Innovation Office , Col. Charles Galbreath, recognizes as key to more effective and efficient service. Speaking about the establishment of a “digital headquarters” to nurture collaboration, Galbreath said: “We’re thinking about any level within Space Force where decisions are made, we want to make data-driven decisions that are informed in a collaborative way and maximize the utility of the resources that we have available to us.”
Adaptability is another crucial soft skill. Digital employees must be able to take on new challenges and happily embrace change as circumstances or strategy dictates.
3) Be Ready to Iterate
Technology is rapidly evolving, and what an IT pro needs to know today will be different in five, ten, or fifteen years from now. Agencies must address this need through continuous learning and develop strategies that encourage and foster such an environment.
Importantly, if learning or certifications don’t align with larger strategies and priorities — or support career advancement — IT pros should feel empowered to push back and question their criticality. Again, agencies can take a leaf out of Space Force’s book. Faced with 23,000 potential training modules on everything from AI to cyber, Galbreath explained that the agency incorporated only those courses “we think would be ideal for guardians” into its Digital University pipelines.
Accelerate Digital Government
The COVID-19 pandemic, IT modernization and rapidly evolving cyber threats have accelerated digitization in government. Moving forward, agencies must do all they can to keep the momentum going by instilling a digital mindset through training and upskilling. Hopefully, Space Force’s pioneering approach and these tips will help.