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NextGov: How Nontraditional Hires Can Fill the Tech Talent Gap
October 12, 2020

Many government agencies continue to fall short regarding technology solutions and advancements. The pandemic has only exacerbated the problem, uncovering antiquated processes and systems within the sector. Modernizing the government’s IT infrastructure is critical. Unfortunately, the ongoing tech talent shortage has been worsened by a reduction in H-1B visas and an increase in retirements. 

 

One solution government IT leaders should consider is targeting nontraditional workers such as recent college graduates and veterans without prior tech experience. These individuals often possess qualities and skills that are just as valuable to IT work as a traditional tech education. In order to successfully implement this alternate recruitment strategy, it is vital for government IT leaders to understand the benefits of targeting this new talent pool, attributes to look for in these candidates and the best practices for helping them acclimate into federal organizations.

 

Look Beyond Traditional IT Personality Traits

 When hiring non-tech workers, there should be a heavy focus on a candidate’s emotional intelligence, or EQ. Working with the government, at all levels, includes confronting structure and processes not present or less pronounced in the private sector. An individual with a high EQ is equipped to navigate the government environment more easily. Tech skills may be mastered through instruction, but high EQ is a trait that is difficult to teach.  

 Creativity is another trait that can be found in many non-tech workers and is easily transferable to the IT industry. Working on a project often requires days of searching for the problem, hypothesizing, testing possible solutions, and finding and naming the multiple variables. An individual who is creative is able to come up with alternative testing solutions which can be key to expediting the process. 

 Additionally, candidates with English or linguistic degrees can be successful in technology roles because of their understanding of languages and strong written communication skills. This is especially important when writing code or creating documentation that must be written in a way that accurately communicates and describes what was done.  

 

Identify the Right Advanced Skills for Each Project

 We are seeing more robotic process automation, or RPA, deals in the federal space. This has become increasingly important during the COVID-19 shutdown. In addition, we are seeing a rise in cybersecurity requirements and the utilization of cloud platforms. 

 When seeking candidates for these technologies, it’s vital that new hires possess strong problem-solving and analytical skills. The majority of what is discussed on a project is the project itself, not the issue. Having an analytical mindset allows non-tech employees to still be successful in this process, even without the training their peers may possess. Additionally, an understanding of business processes is vital to identify where automation could be beneficial.

 Help College Grads Adjust to a New Environment

 Because there is more structure in the government sector due to additional processes and regulations, there may be a transition phase. Starting many of the onboarding procedures early, like providing all necessary equipment and a tech stack, gives trainees time to adjust to government procedures. 

 Often organizations have robust training programs for full-time employees but not for contractors. This can be a huge disadvantage for non-tech workers who may not have the experience to know what they should be working on without instruction or guidance. A formal training process for contractors allows them to become familiar with tools faster. 

 

Provide Veterans Without a College Degree an Opportunity

 To increase the technology talent pool, hiring managers need to consider candidates who do not hold a college degree. A recent executive order in the federal government urges agencies to emphasize skills over degrees. Removing this requirement not only benefits military veterans who are well-suited for technical roles in the government, but provides federal agencies with another much-needed talent pipeline. 

 Finding unique and innovative ways to fill the large tech talent gap is vital to continue the advancement of the industry. Government IT leaders must look past the traditional “checklist” and be open to hiring those without a tech background. In doing so, leaders will begin to see the divide close.

This article was written by SkillStorm’s CEO Justin Vianello for NextGov. To read the original article click here.

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