Pending retirements force LA to rethink how to fill its tech jobs

Fri, 2014-05-23 06:00 -- Jesse Berst


As the Council's Smart Cities Readiness Guide points out, it's one thing for a city to deploy smart infrastructure. But a smart city also needs highly trained workers in both the public and private sector to operate that infrastructure. And skilled information and communications technology (ICT) workers are in big demand today.

Which leads us to the city of Los Angeles, where about 60% of the IT staff is set to retire in the next five years, according to a GovTech.com article.  The city's help desk that provides first-level IT support to 4,500 city users has already taken a big hit with retirements.

In a story earlier this year on how the ICT skills gap can slam cities, we cited a 2013 report by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce that projected 2.6 million jobs in science, technology, engineering and math will need to be filled between 2010 and 2020. And the U.S. isn't alone. For example, a skills audit released last year in Ireland found 4,500 vacancies its ICT sector.

What to do? Replacing the Los Angeles retirees with new full-time staff might be the first choice, but with money tight and the huge amount of time it takes to hire full-time employees, the city's Information Technology Agency (ITA) chose another route, at least temporarily.

According to GovTech, for the next 36 months the city will use student workers for call center and field work positions. ITA General Manager Steve Reneker notes that although the students don't have the institutional knowledge of the retirees and can't work as many hours, the new generation of young workers tend to have a broader IT skill set which gives the city more flexibilty.

Making skills-building a priority

What can a city do to help ensure it has the technical skills it needs to run help centers, handle field work and also plan and operate the smart infrastructure it will deploy in the years ahead?  As the Readiness Guide notes, policies and programs focused on building the skills necessary to install, maintain and optimize smart city technologies should be a priority.

For instance, cities may choose to:

• Organize or partner with professional groups to identify skills needed

• Promote relevant licensing exams and continuing education curriculums

• Use a ‘sustainable’ designation for professionals

• Publish guidelines or create incentives to include smart technology topics in public and private education and workforce training

Besides boosting the skills and competencies of city personnel, the Guide points out that an active campaign to train and groom a smart city workforce will provide a competitive advantage to a city in the battle to attract business and jobs.

Interested in what else cities can do to prepare for future needs? The Readiness Guide is a vendor-neutral handbook featuring expert advice and numerous case studies to help city leaders and planners create their smart city roadmap. The Guide is free, but a one-time registration is required.

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Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to learn about the benefits you receive when you join the Council for free. Follow @Jesse_Berst and connect on LinkedIn.