State looks to ‘unconventional’ tactics to find talent
The Indiana Office of Technology eliminated degree requirements for most jobs in 2019, and now it uses a work-based learning apprenticeship program to reskill employees keen to learn IT.
With a shortage of tech workers nationwide prompting government agencies to rethink how and who they hire, one state is using what a leader of the effort described as “unconventional” tactics in a bid to find employees ready to serve in public sector IT.
The Indiana Office of Technology (IOT) removed a preference for applicants to hold a college degree for most jobs in 2019, then the following year piloted its State Earn and Learn (SEAL) IT program, which provides on-the-job paid training to those wishing to transition into IT careers. Since then, SEAL has taken on more than 50 associates, who previously worked in areas like trucking, manufacturing and customer service.
Implementing a workplace-based learning program and eliminating many degree requirements has helped widen and diversify the talent pool and made “logical sense” for a government looking to boost hiring, Jon Rogers, IOT’s director of strategic workforce planning, said during the GovExec Workforce Summit.
The SEAL program gives associates time to study for industry certifications and qualifications, in addition to performing their duties as IT employees and helps them transition into careers in cybersecurity, telecommunications, cloud and application development. It grew out of a partnership with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development and looks to reskill individuals from various walks of life into new career opportunities.
“If we open ourselves up to unconventional lanes of hiring, we can find people in pockets that we didn't realize before, and find people that are really interested in joining the mission of an agency for the public good,” Rogers said.
The COVID-19 pandemic threw SEAL’s initial plans into some uncertainty, as every employee went remote, and the program had to on-board its first associates in a virtual setting. Rogers said leaders made sure that the on-boarding effort was still “high-touch,” with plenty of interactions with the new associates to make them feel like a part of a team.
Then in August 2020, two SEAL members went on-site to work in IOT’s deployment room to help fix computers and other hardware, work that Rogers said the pair quickly embraced as they saw an opportunity to serve the public and the government at a “time of highest need.” Rogers added that their on-site efforts represented one of the “first major turning points in the program,” as it showed associates’ willingness to serve, even under difficult circumstances.
It is not just IOT that has benefitted from new graduates of the SEAL program, either. Rogers said associates have gone on to be placed with the state’s Departments of Health, Revenue, and Housing and Community Development, with more to follow. In the future, Rogers said he hopes SEAL can place graduates across the state government and play a “great hand in shaping a generation” of public servants.
“I believe, based on the individuals we've brought in so far, that they have a tremendous amount of talent to give Indiana and to give this government,” he said. “If I can continue to bring in more, whether it's five or 50 in the next year, anybody that can contribute to this environment is going to help them toward the greater good.”
The launch of the SEAL program followed IOT eliminating degree requirements, which were potentially warding off up to 70% of applicants, Rogers said. Now, he said, the department is still open to those who have four-year degrees, but also to those who studied in two-year degree programs, at boot camps, work-based learning or anywhere else.
Without a degree requirement, Rogers said IOT prioritizes job applicants and employees with a more “mission-dependent set of attributes,” like the ability to communicate clearly, collaborate, work independently and brief senior government officials quickly and coherently. Rogers also said that those with customer service experience might be well suited to certain roles at IOT.
“Whatever it is that they've done, if they're willing to bring those skills to bear for the state of Indiana, we want them to think about us,” Rogers said.