In states’ IT workforce woes, Tech Talent Project sees opportunity

The Tech Talent Project is ramping up its assistance to state and local governments this year, including hosting virtual job fairs.
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After years of helping state and federal agencies find top technical talent from the private sector, the nonprofit Tech Talent Project this year began expanding its assistance to state and local governments facing workforce woes.

The group hosted two virtual job fairs this year, which organizers said attracted thousands of job seekers, leading many to consider for the first time a career in public service. The group also this year helped fill two high profile positions in state government with the appointments of Pennsylvania Chief Information Officer Amaya Capellan and Maryland CIO Katie Savage, along with new positions under Savage, including a chief digital experience officer and artificial intelligence adviser.

Jennifer Anastasoff, the Tech Talent Project’s executive director, told StateScoop that one of the first big hurdles for many states is realizing that the talent they want isn’t out of reach and that they can make solid hires if they adjust their hiring practices.

“The question we need to be asking is, for those folks who do want to come in and those folks who are a right fit, can we hire them with a better experience than they would get somewhere else? And that’s the place where states can make a huge difference,” Anastasoff said. “A state could choose to be way better at hiring tech talent than at other places.”


‘Those folks are there’

Recruiting and retaining qualified IT staff is a pervasive and longstanding challenge in state government. Dread about workforce challenges — including an ongoing wave of retirements, confusing job titles and difficulties competing with salaries offered by the private sector — dominated an annual survey published last year by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers.

“A new hire cannot take nine months if people only stay in the job three years,” one CIO is quoted as saying in last year’s NASCIO survey. “This will take a complete rethinking of the recruiting, training and retention processes or we will simply be underperforming through constant churn.”

Anastasoff said her group is seeing success among states that are choosing to adapt their hiring and recruitment practices.

“Those folks are there,” she said. “We just have to cultivate them and, candidly, there are great folks inside government who need to be cultivated and supported, so we help with that.”


Following the COVID-19 pandemic — when unemployment systems and health IT systems became overloaded — and the recent layoffs by Big Tech, many are considering government jobs for the first time, Anastasoff said. 

“Right now is a critical moment,” she said. “If you look at the layoffs that have happened in the past year in tech, people are reconsidering what it means to make a difference. And government and state governments are the places where work gets done and that’s what technologists want is to do great work in places where the work can get done. And they want to make a difference in the world.”

‘Untold stories’

Cassandra Madison, the group’s vice president of partnerships, told StateScoop that state governments can attract new talent by tweaking the narrative about what it means to be a government employee. 

“There are so many untold stories in government of the impact that you can have in peoples’ lives,” Madison said. “There’s this narrative out there that it takes a long time to hire in government, that you don’t always know what’s going on and there’s some really basic best practices around frequent communication with candidates and time to hire, cutting out the unnecessary administrative obstacles from the hiring process that can really set people up for success.”


Madison said Tech Talent Project also encourages states to be more proactive in their recruiting and to believe that they can hire top talent if they smooth out their processes. 

“It can be difficult to muster the effort to make processes more user-friendly if you don’t believe that the talent is out there or that you can actually hire them,” she said. 

Following a year in which 36 governors were up for re-election, Tech Talent Project organizers said they saw an unprecedented opportunity to offer states assistance. The Tech Talent Project partnered the Washington D.C. think tanks American Enterprise Institute and New America to publish a series of nine memos for governors’ transition teams. Over 96 pages, the memos include resources and recommendations across a variety of policy concerns, including the government workforce. 

The memos note that “technology expertise among leadership is not enough; the government’s ability to recruit and retain a talented workforce is hobbled by outdated personnel laws, policies and practices.”

The Tech Talent Project is currently gearing up for its third virtual job fair on Oct. 24.


“There is untapped talent out there that’s really eager to explore government service,” Madison said. “Some folks coming to this event are just thinking about government for the first time and so there’s a real opportunity for inspiration and shared learnings that accompany the actual booth visitation itself.”

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