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Long term digital plans are critical to address federal workforce shortages

While the last two years have shown the resilience, adaptability and ingenuity of governments at all levels, ongoing challenges in recruitment and retention linger, particularly in federal IT career fields.

It’s estimated based on age, almost 30% of the current federal workforce will be eligible to retire in the next five years further exacerbating career fields with existing gaps like the cyber workforce which accounts for 40,000 open public sector jobs.

While there have been efforts to ease on-boarding processes to increase recruitment and hiring, agencies would benefit from building proactive, long-term digital plans to support overleveraged employees. These plans need to be considerate of people, processes and capabilities, in order for federal agencies to ensure workforce scalability and streamline workflows without disrupting citizen service delivery.

Building a people-centric scalable plan

Shrinking candidate pools, in-demand skillsets incompatible with job seeker qualifications and lack of access to easy-to-use digital resources are just a few challenges agencies face as they revitalize their workforces. To create a tenable and secure strategy to address these concerns, agencies should develop holistic digital plans that spans 10 to 15 or more years.

Rather than be reliant on unproven emerging technology with high implementation costs that cater to specialized employees, agency digital plans should be adaptable with consideration to workforce and capabilities. For instance, staffing plans should be built around an agency’s minimum sized workforce to enable workflow adjustment with minimal downtime should there be continuous or future hiring challenges.

To support a fluctuating workforce, its important agencies leverage digital tools and resources that are accessible to the necessary employees regardless of technical proficiency to avoid loss of platform-specific institutional knowledge. Tools that help simplify communications and provide user-friendly digital platforms ensure more widespread utilization without extensive training requirements.

Adopting communications tools, digital resources to offset workloads

Communications is a critical function of government and underpins the awareness, adoption and impact of essentially all agency initiatives. Utilizing accessible communications methods enables agencies to empower their existing workforce and meet citizen expectations without hindering operational efficiency.

One way agencies can do this is by leveraging SMS as an outreach method to align with and support the general public’s growing reliance on mobile phones. Reaching individuals where they are – with the devices they use – as well as tailoring what content they receive can ensure increased engagement in, across and outside of organizations.

Some agencies have already embraced this idea, as there was an 11% increase in their use of SMS to communicate with the public between 2021 and 2022. For agencies looking to adopt SMS or similar communications methods, the use of intuitive, user-friendly technology ensures meaningful experiences between the public and the workforce without adding to workloads.

An additional benefit of modernizing communications tools and digital platforms is creating enhanced visibility and transparency for the public, allowing individuals insight into the status of service requests or upcoming deadlines for topics and resources relevant to their needs. Such tools result in reduced administrative burden related to time spent handling emails and phone calls, enabling federal employees to focus on mission critical work.

Further, capabilities that are tailorable to individual’s needs result in enhanced data, better decision-making and a more strategic use of government resources. For the workforce, leaning on data and adopting easy-to-use tools can also drive inter-agency collaboration, enhancing the much-needed flexibility today’s borderless workplace requires.

One challenge over encumbered workforces may face when looking to implement new tools and processes into long term digital plans is support from team decision-makers. In the 2022 Federal Employee Viewpoint survey only 51% of responses were positive to the statement “my work unit commits resources to develop new ideas.”

It’s critical for federal leaders to champion their employees and find solutions to offset workflow challenges amid ongoing hiring challenges. By welcoming new ideas, strategies and digital tools, agencies can bolster retention efforts and workplace morale.

What’s next: a blueprint for adopting a long-term digital plan

For federal agencies seeking to build long term digital plans, key first steps include identifying potential funding sources, securing leadership support and equipping the workforce with educational resources on proposed capabilities. A well-rounded plan is inclusive of people, processes and capabilities and provides actionable steps, measurable milestones and capability adoption procedures.

The persisting challenges presented by the government workforce shortage span more than two years and its vital federal agencies take steps now to alleviate employee workloads and offset gaps in citizen service experience and delivery. Adopting a plan mindful of minimal and current staffing levels that streamlines existing workflows and leverages familiar communications and easy-to-use capabilities will not only enable government to scale, it will also ensure prospective employees enter a workforce that meets their technological expectations and qualifications.