Empowering Federal Professionals with Next-Generation Information Management Skills
As anybody who has been paying attention to federal headlines or budgets can tell you, the government is making major pushes to update its cybersecurity positioning. And for good reason – both the frequency and severity of cyberattacks are growing by the day. This has brought about the revelation that the government has a number of skills gaps concerning its cyber capabilities. However, while mending cyber skills gaps should be a pressing priority for the government, focusing too narrowly on cybersecurity may come at the cost of missing other equally severe shortcomings within the larger realm of information management. As pointed out in the first blog in this series (Uncovering Hidden Risk Within Federal Information Management Programs), there is a burgeoning information management skills gap that has yet to be recognized.
NextGen InfoPro and the Inherent Skills Gaps
If you missed our initial post, it dealt with a recent Iron Mountain survey that polled federal managers responsible for records and information management (RIM) in their agencies in order to identify their priorities and concerns over the next three to five years. This survey demonstrated that concerning gaps exist between the skills records management professionals currently have and those they believe will be required of them in the near future. Addressing these gaps will strengthen the management of information in the agencies, and will help secure that information across both physical and digital asset formats.
While nearly half (46%) of federal information management professionals cite managing all types of information assets, regardless of format, as a priority for their field, many feel unprepared to handle the future requirements of doing so. The survey also called out these areas of need:
- Agencies recognize the need for improvement of key skills: Risk management (34%) is most often cited as an area for improvement, followed by electronic records retention (24%), RIM practices (24%) and analytics (21%)
- Risk management/security/data privacy (54%), analytics (42%) and content/records management (33%) are the most desired skill sets
- Information security (52%) is by far the technical skill in greatest demand, while innovative thinking (39%) came in as the soft skill most in demand
Given this information, what can agencies do to prevent this skills gap from becoming a major problem?
Remedying Through Training
Increasing the amount of training available to employees seems to be the best way to accomplish this, according to the survey results. Although agencies currently do offer training to help their employees’ professional growth, more could be done in this area. Currently, agencies support professional growth through a variety of means with internal training being noted most often by survey respondents (60%). Almost half also indicate they receive support from their agency in the form of professional development plans and paying for external training.
Providing more training in various areas of expertise is cited most often as a way to motivate and support professional development. About one-half feel that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) should provide more specific training courses toward certification and deliver progressive training courses via online modules or webinars as ways to motivate understanding and adherence, and support professional development.
Agencies should also promote the knowledge and mentoring skills of experienced staff before they leave the agency for retirement. These individuals hold a rich repository of knowledge that should be tapped as part of a wider mentoring and training regimen. This will help with the very important task of information transfer and ensure continuity of operations over the longer term. In addition, a focus on developing specialized technical skills, such as agile development, Lean Six Sigma and application and process integration will be important to address the specialized areas in demand. Agencies can also help foster soft skills that were rated as only ‘adequate’ or below, such as communications (68%), change management (46%)and use case development (50%) for enhanced internal communications and information sharing.
Readying for the Next Generation
Agencies should take note that most employees are actively seeking professional development opportunities – over three-quarters of respondents agree they are proactive in seeking additional training and education to enhance their professional skills. To mitigate rising skills gaps before they occur and to meet this internal demand for training, agencies should consider professional development programs delivered according to employee’s preferences, such as in-office training, professional conferences and online courses and webinars.
As the government increasingly collects and utilizes larger stores of information, it cannot afford to have any capability gap compromise the integrity and progress to date of its information keepers. In order to prepare for the next generation of information professionals, agencies need to be doing all that they can in the present to actively engage their employees and provide attractive training, awareness and professional development programs that may save them from having to contend with future skills gaps.