By John Foster
The writer is partner and chief impact officer for Fearless, a digital services and software company with offices in Baltimore and Montgomery, Ala. He can be reached at [email protected].
With the launch of two new initiatives, the State of Maryland may have inadvertently created an opportunity the tech industry has been seeking for more than a decade — a way to build a pipeline of talent to meet the growing demand for tech workers.
The State of Maryland’s recently unveiled actions to transform the digital experience in state government offer an exciting opportunity to improve the state’s workforce.
Maryland’s executive order includes several key areas:
- Developing and implementing a comprehensive plan to operationalize the state’s AI principles and create appropriate guardrails for agencies’ use of AI while also promoting AI knowledge, skills, and talent in state government
- Establishing an in-house team of state product managers, user researchers, designers and engineers, who will support website and application redesigns and discovery efforts for agencies to inform more accurate and agile procurements with a focus on well-designed and user-centered digital experiences to increase trust in government, decrease the cost to serve and support agencies in delivering on their critical missions
- Issuing a digital accessibility policy, which will ensure equal access to state-procured and developed information technology and services regardless of ability to provide the highest degree of usability for everyone.
This new set of actions will position Maryland as a leader in providing constituents with accessible digital services through advanced technology. However, hiring policies and practices must be considered if Maryland is going to avoid the challenges faced by other states that have stood up digital services offices.
The policies and practice of hiring within government can create limitations for these offices to be effective. Just establishing new job billets can be a major hurdle — government will have to create and define new positions.
Overcoming this initial hurdle typically is followed by the challenge of filling these roles.
In its annual State of the Tech Workforce report, CompTIA, a nonprofit that offers certifications for IT professionals, forecasts a 2.3% increase in tech employment for Maryland this year — an estimated 5,100 net new jobs. Maryland is home to one of the most educated workforces in the nation but it’s not enough for the rapidly growing tech industry.
The reality is that without skills-based training, we will never make a dent in meeting the demand for talent.
However, Maryland has an ace card in its pocket.
In October Governor Moore launched the historic Service Year Option, the first-in-the nation public service year program for high school graduates. One of the goals of the program is to enhance workforce development and promote preparedness for both higher and vocational education.
Participants earn at least $15 an hour and work at least 30 hours a week, gaining both hard and soft skills through a service placement aligned with their area of interest, in addition to working with support coaches to develop and refine their post-service plans — whether they include college, career, or continued service.
In the fall, the state also announced a $3 million initiative to support the growth of registered apprenticeships within Maryland’s public sector. The fund will provide grants to public sector entities to create and expand registered apprenticeship opportunities within state, municipal, and local governments.
If the state embeds inside every digital service procurement contract a requirement for companies to train and upskill apprentices then we can create the talent pool we need to meet the actions the governor outlines.
With these new initiatives, the state has assets it can use to invest in the development of staff which will ensure the digital services movement continues into the future. This is a long game and we have to create opportunities for people to learn so that when one program ends, the skilled person can move onto the next thing, creating a flywheel in workforce development.