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Tennessee’s State IT Workers Must Demonstrate Their IT Chops to Keep Their Jobs

Published on Apr 30, 2013 at 2:42 pm in Tech Trends.

Earlier this month, the Tennessean reported that “in an effort to screen out those who can’t master the skills of a rapidly changing field” the State of Tennessee is requiring 1,600 IT workers across state government to re-apply for their jobs.

The article also suggests that Tennessee’s leadership fears that many of the state’s IT workers are not adequately qualified for the jobs they hold.

While I have no knowledge about the inner workings of the state IT department and can’t say if this is a warranted fear or not, if 1,600 state IT workers are under-qualified for their jobs, the problem likely started because the state doesn’t have a regimented hiring process.

When it comes to hiring technical employees, it takes someone of superior technical skill to assess the skills of others. This is why many human resources departments struggle with hiring qualified IT employees. If the state is trying to hire IT staffers without rigorous technical testing and interviews that include highly skilled technical staffers, it’s setting itself up for a lackluster workforce.

If you start off with under-qualified employees and then promote staffers based on seniority or annual reviews that don’t measure technical skills, you’re compounding an already difficult problem.

One aspect that state positions are known for is their job security, which is great unless you have an IT department filled with longtime team members who are not the best fit for their positions. In this case, job security is not the best thing to shore up.

On the flip side, if you do have a technically sound, robust workforce and you tell those workers that they all have to re-interview for their jobs, there’s a good chance they will go ahead and interview for some non-government jobs as well. In this situation, the state runs the risk of losing a lot of institutional knowledge from within its ranks.

It’s a sellers market for technology professionals right now. We work in IT and intimately understand the challenges facing organizations with mounting technology needs. If this is what the government feels it needs to do to compete with the private sector for technology talent, then this reassessment is probably long overdue.

Either way, it will certainly be interesting to see if the state IT department will be better off or not a year from now having done this.


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