Government worker shortage examined at trade show

Recruiting and retaining employees was a big topic of discussion at the FOSE technology-in-government trade show this week as the U.S. government is facing a potential worker shortage in the coming years.

About half of all U.S. government workers will be eligible to retire by 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics. At FOSE, one of Cisco Systems’ main messages was that U.S. agencies can retain and recruit workers by offering the ability to work at home, or work out of the metro Washington, D.C., area.

Cisco’s booth at FOSE included mock-ups of a home office, traditional office and airport boarding area placed next to each other. The home office had the same IP (Internet Protocol) phone as the traditional office. In addition, the home office used a Cisco router that encrypts communication back to the main office, has built-in Wi-Fi security and ensures voice quality by giving IP voice priority over data traffic.

Recruiting and retaining workers is a growing concern among Cisco government customers, and not just in the U.S., said Chris Shenefiel, government industry solutions manager for Cisco. “That’s what we hear from our clients,” he said.

The younger employees who will replace those retiring workers are used to a more instant communication than e-mail or voice mail, things like instant messaging and video conferencing, he added. “They don’t want to send an e-mail and get an answer in three weeks,” Shenefiel said.

The CyberWatch Center, a consortium of colleges, businesses and government agencies, is taking a different approach to the predicted worker shortage. Among the goals of the center, funded by a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation, is to get young people interested in the cyber security field and train them at colleges in the Washington, D.C., area.

The center, based at Prince George’s Community College in Maryland, is focused on training students for in-demand cyber security jobs, said Vera Zdravkovich, director of the center. “We need to attach more students into this field,” she said during a FOSE briefing.

Since the center opened two years ago, eight of its partner community colleges now offer 10 degree programs in information security, compared to just three of those schools offering programs in 2005, she said. In addition, student enrolments in information security at the community colleges have grown by more than 50 percent since January 2006, she said.

In addition, the program has supported computer activities for close to 200 elementary and secondary school students, including a conference called Cool Careers in Cybersecurity.

The program has been successful in helping colleges roll out programs and train faculty, but it’s been hard to get federal agencies or private companies to provide internships for cyber security students, particularly undergraduates, Zdravkovich said. Some of the member colleges have been providing in-house internships as a way to address the shortage of opportunities elsewhere, she said.

But the program will continue to work on internships and create programs designed to train students for information assurance careers in the federal government and elsewhere, she said.

“We feel we are really working hard to elevate the intellectual capacity in our region,” Zdravkovich said.

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