After several failed state IT projects, Strategic Technology Solutions, formerly the Office for Information Resources, in 2013 decided they would invest in state IT employees through professional training and development instead of outsourcing their jobs. Considering outsourcing state jobs is a popular option for the Haslam administration, the efforts of this particular office operating within the Department of Finance and Administration are encouraging.
TSEA last month met with several representatives from the Haslam administration to get an update on the NextGen IT process.
One of our first questions was about reductions inforce (RIFs) resulting from the change. HR and Talent Management Director Dr. Kelly Lancaster said they have done a good job placing and training current employees. Offering as an example, he said this year they only expect to RIF 4 employees, which will occur within the Department of Developmental Disabilities.
One trend working in favor of state IT workers is low unemployment rates for IT professionals. According to Organizational Quality and Performance Management Director Leighanne Haynes, unemployment for IT professionals in Middle Tennessee is 0 percent. “Middle Tennessee is a hotbed for IT and we desperately want to retain our IT professionals,” Director Haynes said.
The group told TSEA that IT professionals are hard to find and hard to keep. This challenge led the state to launch what is called the Enterprise IT Transformation (EIT) initiative, which centralizes all IT personnel under the Department of Finance and Administration and allows departments to share IT staff and resources. TSEA plans to monitor the impact of this approach to make sure these shared employees are not eventually overloaded with too much work.
They are aware of this concern, but, according to Haynes, funding is a challenge. Plus, the state already struggles to offer market competitive salaries for current IT staff.
One advantage the state has over the private sector is their new IT Academy, created as part of the NextGen IT process, which offers state employees professional training and development opportunities that workers are not likely to get elsewhere. According to Director Haynes, the state’s IT Academy is now in operation and has served six-thousand students, some of which are repeat attendees.
TSEA asked if employees attending the IT Academy are limited to training programs that fall within their current job classification. The group said employees are not limited by their job classification. However, they said typically the employee and his/ her manager have a conversation to decide which trainings are relevant for the particular employee. Employees are allowed to enroll in one course per quarter.
Historically, to compete for employees with the private sector, the state has offset lower wages by offering superior benefits. But, over the last few years, state employee benefits have been reduced.
That being said, the NextGen IT model of offering state employees professional training and development benefits is promising.
So, how did we get here?
In 2013, after a few failed state IT projects, the state hired Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) to assess the information technology (IT) organizations in twenty state agencies. This process, called the Next Generation Information Technology Assessment (NextGen IT), was, according to the state, developed to determine current and future IT support needs and recommend ways to improve IT services.
As part of the 2013 NextGen IT assessment process, SAIC recommended a new organizational structure with new job classifications. The new structure required employees who occupied a reclassified position to re-apply and re-interview for their job. If that employee met the minimum qualifications of the newly classified position and possessed the required knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies (KSAC) as determined by the department, he/she was rehired. If that employee met the “minimum qualifications” for the new job, but did not have the required KSACs, he/she was eligible to be hired through a “mismatch” with the opportunity to attend the state’s new IT Academy.
TSEA at the time was very concerned about the impact this massive change would have on current state employees. Nevertheless, though there have been bumps in this process for some employees, overall, TSEA is pleased to see this level of investment in our state employees; especially at a time when the state is outsourcing so many other state jobs and services.
TSEA will continue to watch this process and work with the Department of F&A to ensure all employees are treated properly. If you have any concerns or are negatively affected by this process, please contact TSEA so we can help sort out your issue.
By Chris Dauphin
TSEA Communications Director