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Solve government tech skills gaps and drive ROI with upskilling

Gain insights on the technical skills gaps, skill development challenges, and the ROI of hiring vs. upskilling in government agencies.

May 1, 2024 • 7 Minute Read

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  • Cloud
  • Public Sector
  • IT Ops
  • Software Development
  • Engineering Leadership
  • Data
  • Security
  • News
  • Team Development
  • AI & Machine Learning
  • Learning & Development

Emerging technologies and smaller talent pools have widened technical skills gaps and created more challenges for government agencies. So, where are those technical skills gaps, and how can organizations fill them to better serve their constituents and achieve mission-critical objectives?

We surveyed 200 executives and IT professionals across the United States public sector to find out. Here’s what we learned from our 2024 Technical Skills Report.

Table of contents

Cybersecurity is the top technical skills gap in government agencies

95% of government executives and 73% of IT practitioners say their organization’s IT skills gap has improved since last year. But skills gaps still exist. 

Unsurprisingly, government agencies say cybersecurity is their top technical skills gap, with cloud computing and DevOps rounding out the top three.

Just like in the private sector, AI/ML is the skills gap agencies are the least concerned with. This may seem surprising given the AI and machine learning buzz, but many organizations are still vetting AI from a security and compliance standpoint. Because they haven’t implemented this technology in their daily workflows, they don’t yet know where their AI/ML skills gaps lie. 

They also have more immediate priorities. Compared to security, AI/ML isn’t as big of a concern for government agencies—at least right now. However, as machine learning continues to develop and organizations understand all the associated security dependencies, AI/ML skills will become more important.

Takeaway: Prioritize security, cloud, and DevOps fundamentals

Focus your agency’s upskilling efforts on known technical skills gaps in cybersecurity, cloud, and DevOps. Once your tech teams have a firm grasp on these foundational tech skills, along with skills like software development and data analysis, ramp up skill development related to emerging technologies like AI and machine learning. Just don’t forget about the fundamentals as you do.

Consequences of the skills gap: Employee burnout and abandoned projects

The technical skills gap can lead to lasting consequences at the individual and organizational levels. When it comes to government agencies:

  • 99% of IT professionals say their workload has increased due to the skills gap.

  • The vast majority of executives and technologists have had to abandon projects partway through because they lacked the necessary IT skills. 

  • 99% of executives and technologists are worried about the impacts of the IT skills gap. Their biggest concerns include being unable to adopt new technologies, maintain legacy systems, and retain constituent services. 

Takeaway: Close skills gaps to foster innovation and maintain constituent services

As technologists’ workloads increase, so do their stress levels and potential for burnout. This can ultimately impact your ability to leverage new and existing technologies. 

The longer gaps stay open, the harder it is to serve your communities. Identify and close gaps quickly to relieve pressure on your teams, foster innovation, and achieve your objectives.

Benefits and challenges of tech skill development in agencies

100% of agencies have benefited from upskilling. Among the top benefits they’ve seen? Increased productivity and employee retention. On top of that, 49% of government agencies have used upskilling to fill skills gaps.

Despite the benefits, agencies still struggle to upskill their employees with the right skill set. 70% of government IT practitioners say leadership at their organization is unaware of the IT skills gap, and their top upskilling challenges are lack of leadership support, not having enough time to learn, and low engagement with upskilling programs.

Agency executives cite similar concerns. According to them, the main barriers to upskilling include lack of leadership support, financial resources, and employee engagement.

Takeaway: Boost employee engagement with time to learn and leadership support

To reap the benefits of upskilling, you first need to understand where skills gaps exist. Skill assessments are one way to benchmark current competencies and track progression over time. 

Then, give technologists dedicated time to learn at work, engage with skill development initiatives, and take advantage of available training resources. You’ll build continuous learning and help employees align career goals with career paths.

The cost of hiring new government employees vs. upskilling

Upskilling can be faster and more cost-effective than hiring new employees or contractors to fill skills gaps and job requirements. For one thing, government agencies face a variety of challenges when hiring for IT roles:

  • 53% struggle to attract candidates with the right skill set
  • 48% say new hires leave after a few months
  • 48% believe candidates overstate their qualifications
  • 45% have inefficient recruitment processes

These challenges draw out the hiring process, leaving roles and skills gaps open for weeks at a time. In fact, it takes an average of eight weeks to fill IT positions in government agencies. And 65% of agencies say hiring new employees takes longer or the same amount of time as upskilling current employees for IT roles.

There’s also a direct cost difference. Government agencies spend an average of $36,956 on hiring and training a new IT employee—and only $20,269 on upskilling an IT employee.

Takeaway: Upskill to fill skills gaps sooner and retain talented IT professionals

The hiring process takes time, and there’s no guarantee you’ll find the skills you need in the market or retain new hires beyond the first few months. Upskilling is a valuable way to fill skills gaps for the long-term and boost employee retention through career development opportunities.

Online learning platforms: Technologists want training from industry experts

When it comes to online learning platforms, what features are most important? Government technologists look for online course content created by industry experts (44%), interactive forums or community support (41%), and ways to track their knowledge mastery (38%).

And for the most part, agencies provide the tools they need. 47% provide content created by industry experts, 44% provide interactive forums or community support, and 42% offer skill assessments or ways to track knowledge mastery.

Takeaway: Provide employee enablement for learning resources

To boost employee engagement with upskilling, provide the learning resources technologists find the most valuable. Top of mind should be online course content created by industry experts. If you can, make learning an organization or team-wide activity to create a sense of community, open space for discussion, and promote continuous learning.

But don’t let employee preferences drive your training programs entirely. For example, agencies know it’s important to apply skills in real-world environments—that’s why 44% provide hands-on labs and sandboxes. Just remember to create employee enablement to ensure your teams know what resources you provide and how they’ll help them learn.

Government employees learn new technical skills for higher salaries and career development

Government agency executives motivate technologists to learn new IT skills by offering customized training programs (67%), career advancement opportunities (60%), and financial incentives (57%).

But when it comes to tech skill development, government IT professionals are really interested in only financial and job opportunities. Their top motivations for upskilling include obtaining higher salaries (52%), advancing their career paths (45%), and gaining more career options (42%).

Takeaway: Align upskilling incentives with employee motivations

Look at how your organization incentivizes and rewards employee training programs. Do these incentives match your team's motivations for learning? If you aren’t sure why your employees learn new skills, ask them. An anonymous survey can help you gauge your teams’ honest thoughts.

Then try your best to match incentives with employee motivations. If you can’t provide higher salaries due to budget constraints, can you give employees job opportunities to work on new projects or gain hands-on experience in different roles they’re interested in?

The ROI of technical skill development

Government agencies measure technical skill levels through assessments and tests (55%), continuous learning and training participation (53%), and team and peer feedback (49%). Their most used metrics to track skill development ROI include employee engagement, changes in revenue, and project timelines or velocity. 

Employees, on the other hand, measure upskilling success based on real-world application. 33% of government IT professionals know they’ve acquired a new skill when they can use it in their day-to-day work.

Takeaway: Measure more than employee engagement

When measuring the ROI of upskilling, look beyond employee engagement. See how technologists use what they’ve learned in the real world to adopt new technologies, take on upcoming projects, or improve constituent services.

Building tech skills in government agencies with continuous learning

Executives and technologists in government agencies agree internal training and development is the first step organizations should take to close the IT skills gap.

You can’t hire your way out of the skills gap, at least for the long haul. But if you can create a culture of continuous learning and turn upskilling into a sustainable cycle, you’ll close the skills gaps of today and tomorrow.

Learn more about how agencies use Pluralsight to build critical tech skills. Download the 2024 Technical Skills Report.

Pluralsight Content Team

Pluralsight C.

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