Young government IT workers say tech is dated, says study

According to a recent focus-group report, young IT workers in the U.S. government believe that by the time technology is rolled out it’s obsolete, and as a result they’re concerned they aren’t getting the experience they need because some functions are outsourced.

A group of technology interns at the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) also said cost-cutting in the U.S. government limits their ability to innovate, and they raised concerns that the more veteran IT workforce isn’t oriented toward information sharing, according to the report, released by Telework Exchange, an Alexandria, Virginia, group that promotes telecommuting among government workers.

But the coming retirement of a huge portion of federal workers also presents opportunities that the interns were aware of, said Cindy Auten, Telework Exchange’s general manager. About 60 percent of U.S. government civil service workers are eligible for retirement in the next five years, she said.

“They show a good perception of the way the workforce is changing,” Auten said. “They focused on this knowledge gap that’s going to exist with the baby boomers retiring. Obviously, knowledge management plays a critical role, but they also looked at the fact that it provides them a lot of opportunity.”

On the downside, the IT workers said the U.S. government is hampered by slow product and service procurement processes, and government agencies don’t have proper business processes in place.

For the report, the Telework Exchange interviewed 14 IT professionals who are part of a DISA fast-track internship program that offers rapid promotions. The focus groups were conducted in September. The IT workers were all part of Generation Y, people born after 1977. DISA gave permission for Telework Exchange to talk with its interns.

While the focus groups raised concerns about working in government IT, they also saw several benefits. They saw government jobs as more stable as those in the private sector, they praised government benefits, and they said they enjoyed reasonable work hours and flexible schedules. The interns praised DISA’s leadership for supporting teleworking options.

Asked how they prefer to communicate, the group focused on e-mail and text messaging as the top tools. The interns had mixed reactions with social-networking sites, with some reluctance to admit use, the Telework Exchange said. Outside instant messaging services aren’t allowed, due to security regulations.

The group said they prefer to find information online, through search engines and through online publications. “Fifteen times a day, I am Googling something,” one intern said.

The young IT workers said they frequently go to blogs for information, but most often through search engines. There was “little loyalty, no name recall” for blogs, Telework Exchange said. The interns also tended not to trust some publications focused on government IT, saying they seemed to be “brag sheets” for federal executives with exaggerated successes.

About half of the group used podcasts, although some saw podcasts as “propaganda,” Telework Exchange said.

There was also an “obvious disdain” for print publications, Telework Exchange said. “If you are reading a magazine or newspaper, it looks like you are goofing off,” one IT worker said. “If you are reading your screen, [it] looks like you are working.”

Telework Exchange predicted that when this generation of young government IT workers is in charge, they will try to steer procurement and development processes to be more like the private sector. They will focus on information sharing and knowledge management, and they will look for employers who provide a work/life balance, the group predicted.

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