Identifying and addressing the burgeoning skills gap issue
The federal government is racing to close high-risk skills gaps that too often present barriers to the cost-effective and optimized delivery of citizen services and mission-critical operations. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has included growing skills gaps under the Strategic Human Capital Management category of its High-Risk List since it was first added in 2001. As part of its high-risk assessment, the GAO identified one of the primary challenges in combatting skills gaps as identifying unrecognized gaps before they become problematic. And although the GAO and other governmental organizations like the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) have been instrumental in identifying federal skills gaps thus far, there are still emerging gaps that need to be addressed before they expose the government to even more risk.
The Growing Information Management Gap
It appears as though one of those growing unrecognized skills gaps is in the form of information management. A recent Iron Mountain survey 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 for agency information management. This survey showed potential gaps between the skills records management professionals currently have and what they believe they will need in the future. 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.
In fact, the survey pointed out additional key areas of need for the future information manager, including:
- 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
In addition, analytics was named as the third most in-demand capability, with 39% of respondents indicating a need for the technology. However, despite this explicitly stated need for analytics, agencies do not have the depth of talent they need to implement the technology. This is evidenced by how poorly taxonomy and metadata design was ranked in the survey, which is a foundational skillset required for effectively classifying and organizing information for proper data analysis. Coming in as the weakest technical skillset with 42% of respondents rating themselves either “Extremely Weak” or “Very Weak” in taxonomy and metadata, combined with the high-demand for analytics capabilities, highlights a clear disconnect between requirements and capabilities.
This survey data shows that an emerging skills gap is present, and indicates that agencies have identified several important areas – from risk management to analytics – that require improvement. It also highlights the inherent risks that these gaps present to federal information management programs. These rising skills gaps surrounding information and records management professionals may be contributing significant levels of risk to the government’s information management landscape, especially if allowed to compound.
The Next Generation of Information Professionals
The government is off to a good start in regards to raising awareness around and addressing some of the most critical skills gaps present in its system, and continues to enact strong, quantitative plans for future improvement. However, as the GAO highlighted, there are still many skills gaps that the government has yet to address, which could leave the government at risk.
Of these, information management programs and the application of analytics to the wealth of information contained therein are among the most pressing skills gaps for future information managers. Agencies need to start looking towards what their next generation of information professionals will look like now if they do not want to risk playing from behind in the future.
Our next blog will offer some insights into ways that the federal government can help close these gaps. Stay tuned…