Interested in a Career in IT? Don’t Forget to Consider the Public Sector
The growing demand for technology roles offers a timely opportunity for the public sector to reimagine its hiring practices to attract tech talent.
Hiring for IT roles in the public sector has its challenges, but it’s also ripe with opportunity. Meaningful partnerships between government, private sector, and nonprofit organizations can create new career pipelines that address digital skills gaps.
News of job cuts and layoffs continue to dominate headlines—especially within big technology firms; however, the overall economy remains strong and shows consistent signs of growth, with technology careers predicted to remain in high demand for the years ahead. Jobseekers pursuing technology careers in areas such as data analytics, cybersecurity, user experience design (UX), digital marketing, and automation have ample opportunity to deploy their skills in a variety of industries. Take the public sector, for example, which is comprised of employment positions at the federal, state, and/or local government agency level. Once an overlooked entry point for IT professionals, the public sector is moving into the spotlight as more students are considering careers in public service, thanks to recent efforts by federal, state, and local governments to attract diverse tech talent and improve digital-first experiences for the people they serve.
With support from Google.org, Jobs for the Future (JFF) is pleased to share lessons learned from state government agencies and local workforce development boards that are removing barriers to public sector employment and proactively building career pathways for individuals to chart a path in public service.
Making the Case for a Career in Public Service
When competing against well-resourced, private tech companies, public sector hiring teams struggle to market careers in public service as an attractive option for tech workers. The public sector might be top of mind for education and law enforcement professionals, but it is perhaps overlooked by those seeking employment in roles more commonly found in private-sector industries, such as IT support specialists, software engineers, and cybersecurity analysts. Jobseekers with transferrable digital skills may not realize the ample opportunities available in their local, state, and federal agencies and how they can lend their talents to improving their communities.
Public sector careers also provide many of the benefits that today’s jobseekers have come to expect, including holidays, paid time off, retirement plans, comprehensive health insurance, wellness programs, and flexible/remote work arrangements. In fact, employees who value work-life balance and job stability may find great satisfaction working in the public sector, which often has regulations around overtime hours and offers protections for the 33.1% of civil servants who belong to labor unions. In a time where skills development is key to attracting and retaining employees, public sector organizations provide employees a path to grow with consistent schedules, on-the-job learning, and professional development. This is in addition to unique employee benefits such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which provides loan repayment assistance for workers who take on loans for education to learn new skills and/or earn a degree. Last but not least, for workers seeking a sense of pride and fulfillment, the public sector can be a way to give back to their communities in a meaningful way.
Building Career Pathways Into Public Sector Digital Jobs
The benefits of a career in the public sector are clear, with agencies across all levels of government committed to attracting top talent, offering competitive employee benefits, working to reduce existing hiring barriers, and strategizing how to build a workforce that supports digital-first government services.
A major focus of all grantees in the Public Sector Digital Jobs Innovation Project is emphasizing skills-based hiring and the use of short-term credentials to create on-ramps to digital jobs. Further, we know that attainable career pathways create high-quality talent pipelines when paired with industry-recognized training programs and immersive work-based learning opportunities, such as apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeships, internships, and on-the-job training. This strategy is also demonstrated in the work currently underway by planning grantees in the Public Sector Digital Jobs Innovation Project.
In North Carolina, the Office of Governor Roy Cooper is building career pathways by identifying online trainings and short-term credentials that can be embedded into a broader public sector digital jobs model. This includes partnerships with high schools and community colleges to create apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs. The importance of emphasizing skills-based hiring for state roles was made clear in March 2023, when Governor Cooper signed an executive order to jumpstart the efforts. The order allows North Carolina residents to substitute work experience for degree requirements and encourages qualified candidates without a four-year degree to apply for state jobs.
The Oklahoma Office of Management & Enterprise Services (OMES) is developing career pathways by using existing programs to serve as a foundation in building a more robust career pipeline. OMES used its 2022 partnership with Google to launch a statewide Grow with Google initiative to provide free online training to Oklahoma state employees and residents to earn career certifications in digital marketing and e-commerce, data analytics, UX design, project management, and IT support. This initiative, combined with the work currently underway with the public sector planning grant, will serve as a launchpad to train workers and teach them new skills specifically for public sector IT roles and to broaden the pool of candidates who are interested in and qualified for these jobs.
Hampton Roads Workforce Council is partnering with local nonprofit organizations and businesses to build career pathways that bolster hiring pipelines, reach untapped talent communities, and increase awareness of career opportunities in state government agencies among youth and young adults. For example, through its Campus 757 program, the Council has developed regional partnerships with employers and 16 higher education institutions to retain and develop students and recent graduates for jobs within the local economy. Part of the program includes an online platform that directly connects students with regional employers, while another part helps industry partners create and advertise internship opportunities. This is just the latest example of how innovative partnerships can take advantage of local outreach while also introducing new career paths to learners.
Lastly, local workforce development boards offer a practical path to public sector employment by harnessing their regional expertise and partnerships to teach residents new skills that fit digital job roles. There are several workforce development boards participating in the Public Sector Digital Jobs Innovation Project to develop pilot programs that offer the Google Career Certificates and IBM SkillsBuild learning platform to provide opportunities to learn new skills for those without college degrees in Georgia, Kansas, Texas, California, and the greater Washington, DC, area. As part of their pilot design, workforce boards must take into consideration recruitment strategies and community and employer partners, as well as supportive services, to ensure these career pathway programs will be sustainable in each of their regions.
The public sector is ready to welcome a new and diverse pool of candidates in public service and is committed to transforming and improving hiring practices while building talent pipelines that support workers from all backgrounds. The organizations above are making strides to bring these opportunities to the forefront, recognizing the timeliness and urgency for applicants to launch an IT career in government.
Businesses, community-based nonprofits, education and training providers, and government agencies all play an integral role in supporting the development of career pathways that connect workers with employment that drives economic advancement for all. The vital need for digital skills is clear across a variety of public sector positions and agencies, leaving plenty of room at the table for many stakeholders to join in motivating these efforts.
JFF is excited to share the progress of the Public Sector Digital Jobs Innovation Project and will publish insights and things we learn as the work continues. If you are interested in following JFF’s work, please connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook and subscribe to our mailing list to find out about opportunities to learn, collaborate, and invest.