The Indiana Department of Information Technology realized that 70% of potential applicants weren't applying to jobs that mentioned a preference for a four-year degree even when one wasn't required. They decided to try something new. Jon Rogers, Director of Strategic Workforce Planning at the Indiana Office of Technology joins Amy and Alex to talk all about the State Earn and Learn Program where new associates from other careers can learn on the job and take certification courses to move into the rewarding career of government technology.
Jon talks about how the program works, how successful it's been and what he's feeling grateful for right now.
Hi, and welcome to NASCIO voices where we talk all things state IT. I'm Amy Glasscock, in Lexington, Kentucky. And I'm Alex Whitaker in Washington DC.You might have noticed recently that NASCIO has been talking a lot about the workforce challenges faced by state IT. And today we're diving into that topic a little more. In fact, workforce is actually our NASCIO policy focus for the first quarter. So today, who better to talk with than Jon Rogers, Director of Strategic Workforce Planning at the Indiana Office of Technology, his state IT office was one of the first in the country to eliminate degree requirements for many of the job descriptions of the agency. And today, he's here to tell us all about how this program has worked in the last few years. Let's get to it. John, welcome to NASCIO voices. And thanks so much for having me, Alex. It is a real pleasure. Thank you so much for having me. And it's a privilege to be here on behalf the Indiana Office of Technology. Well, we're happy to have you and we are certainly excited to hear all about the state Earn and Learn program. But before we get into that, tell us about your background and how you came into your current position, one that I think is perhaps a bit unique and state it? Amy, I appreciate that question. It. It certainly is a unique position here within the Indiana Office of Technology. I joined IoT back in July of 2018. And had the opportunity to bring in some experience that I had at the federal level in a data and information management shop within a federal agency in which I was serving kind of in a, similar capacity, not HR, but really in strategic workforce adjacent to HR, closely involved with hiring with recruiting with shaping job descriptions, and employee tradecraft. And really all the things that that run up alongside that the work that my great colleagues in HR do, but are really outside of this sort of benefits and disciplinary portfolio. So when I had been with IoT for a couple of years, before, I really had seen the opportunity that our agency offered to sort of recreate a position of this nature internally here at IoT, we didn't have one. And so I had spoken with our CIO at the time. And he had pointed me toward an opportunity that our chief technology officer was looking to get off the ground related to, you know, hey, we, you know, we think that there might be this apprentice lane, and we think there might this might be some of them, we can get involved in, would you want to sort of do workforce things alongside that. And the chief technology officer and I had had a couple of conversations along those lines. And I'd said, you know, hey, absolutely, if this is the lane for me to bring some of the workforce knowledge and passion I have from the federal space into IoT. And that also helps us get launched with, you know, initiating work based learning here within the agency. I'd love to do that. And, and that was the case for the first Oh, I don't know, eight or nine months before, well, one, our State Earn and Learn program was was taking launch. We had a brand new CIO, and Tracy Barnes who's still our CIO. Today, we had a really wonderful first couple of meetings, and he said, you know, what? It says, See you in these meetings that are that are sort of adjacent to the Chiefs with workforce like, like, tell me again, like what are you doing here? So well, you know, hey, this is this is a program we got started, you know, under under your predecessor and it's under our Chief Technology Officer now and he said, you know, what, I think we really should elevate that for the organization. Let's let's, let's pull you up and see what else we can get done across the organization. So kind of from from the concept that I'd worked out. And then Tracy's initiative and leadership, we've really taken that. on the initiatives of skills based, hiring, work based learning, really thinking about our employees all across the agency and the skills that they and we need to remain viable and deliver top quality service for our executive branch partners in the citizens of Indiana. Long winded answer to your question of how on earth did you land there? But you know, I give Tracy great Credit for seeing that we had some needs across our organization that can be addressed through through a position or even a small team focused solely on workforce and employee development. And it's been a real privilege to to take it from there. Yeah, well, long winded is okay, particularly when it gives all the background like that. So no problem. And I always think it's so interesting to hear how people, I don't know necessarily want to say fall into a role in your case, because it seems like there were some strategies there, but how do they how they come to kind of find their roles and niches and in particularly state government? So Thanks for Thanks for that. Thank you. Yeah, so in the fall of 2019, if a little bit of background for our listeners, the Indiana Department of it started the process of removing degree requirements from most of your job descriptions in your office search developed an alternative program to hire new people, which was where the state Earn and Learn or SEAL program was born. I should also mention that your office received NASCIO recognition last year as an Award finalist. So tell us about what's going on with the hiring process and why it wasn't working anymore inspiring such a change. Sure, let me let me address the skills based hiring piece. First we going going back, you're exactly right, the fall of 2019. And then certainly through the pandemic year, or pandemic starter year of 2020. As we all know, it was it was challenging to make sure that we were getting job postings in front of the right eyes all across the Indiana Tech community. And part of that, of course, comes from just good advertisement putting forth meaningful job descriptions that people see it and they say, Hey, you know, I really want to I want to do that. I think I want to be part of that mission. But another part of that was was on our side, really taking a careful look at what we could learn from data on who was applying for the jobs. And we had partnered with an organization under the Markel umbrella, skilful Indiana, and they had provided us with some really insightful data on the numbers of folks who were passing on job descriptions, if they saw even a degree requirement that listed as a preferred, so not even like,"hey, you have to have a four year degree," but rather, you know that we like to see a degree. Their data it back in those years...so this, again, is 2019 into 2020 indicated that that 70% of potential qualified applicants were just stopping. And that's without any additional overlays of demographics or gender, anything just just straight out of the gate 70% of people were not looking at job descriptions that stipulated degrees. And so you know, not to put too fine a point on it, but I look at a point like that. And I say, well, then "Hey, okay, we don't need it." It really forced us to take our skills in a more meaningful light. What are we really looking for in in applicants? And what talents are we wanting them to have on day one vice, those that they can develop? And sometimes those are skills in it that can be developed through a degree program great. But we also are surrounded by wonderful talent at the associate's degree level. We have partners in this area who provide boot camps or other training programs. We have our own state Earn and Learn IT program which focuses on adult work based learning. There's so many different ways to get people the IT skills or information security skills that they need to be meaningful contributors in public sector it why would we limit ourselves to saying, well, just thou shalt have a four year degree. go into greater depth about, SEAL IT if you like, or I can put a pause on that for for your follow up question. Yeah, we would certainly like to hear a little bit more about the SEAL program. But before we do that, I just want to flag I think a lot of folks are aware, but workforce development is something that NASCIO is really pushing this year. It's one of our priority advocacy items for interaction with the hill. And we really want to highlight a lot of the solutions like the one that you're talking to, to our federal and congressional partners. And I know, specifically, a lot of the things that you all have done in Indiana, we've seen a lot of other states as well as going a long way in helping address the workforce shortages. So So really great to hear more about it. But yes, would actually love to hear a little bit more about the ins and outs of the SEAL program and how it actually works. I appreciate that, you know, really want to take a second here and commend NASCIO for having workforce on the agenda, top of the line this year, it is, you know, absolutely, suddenly, I think for all of us who have been looking at workforce, and retirement trends, and you're really all of the good data that the point is toward a. You know, I hate to say it this way, but a potential retention catastrophe really over the next five years, especially for those of us who work at the state and local levels, I think it's wonderful to see NASCIO bringing that agenda forward. And we're we here at IoT are only too happy to talk about the things that we've tried that are working for us to help us to stay out of that catastrophe lane. So very good job security for me in that regard. So State Earn and Learn IT. We we were very fortunate back in--starting in the fall of 2019, we had recognized that our partners at the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, they had developed a wonderful adult program, state Earn and Learn or SEAL, that they were using to encourage adults to reskill into other occupations, typically in the trades. We saw that as just a wonderful venture and an opportunity for us to do the exact same thing. But in the public sector IT space. And you know, why not try? That really is I think that could be our t-shirt, coffee mug slogan, you know, "why not try." So we took the DWD SEAL model took their umbrella, their brand, and from that became SEAL IT that helps us. And actually, before I give you the full concept right now, let me just let me go into just a tiny bit of history. The initial plan was to take folks, you know, really from any walk of life, from any occupation over the course of two years and convert them into sort of what we saw as potential industry valued roles that sort of Gartner identified like citizen integrator citizen developers, citizen data scientist, take a take a very slow roll to adapting folks into ITcareers. And then the pandemic happened. And we had set up a pilot for the program, we had hired in two individuals. And sure enough, they were very first day on site coincided with Governor Holcomb's Executive Order mandate that we all needed to go home. And all of a sudden, we were in a brave new world of everyone trying to figure out virtual work, everyone trying to just make sense of every day-to-day. I think we can probably all agree. No, no, none of us are thinking back to 2020 wistfully. Right. So what's your--thank you We use the SEAL IT program to take adults who don't have ITexperience, they don't they maybe they have some certification background, maybe they've learned A+ CompTIA A Plus program on the road or network plus or security plus, maybe they've taken some classes at some point. Every now and then we'll have somebody who's come from me Be a degree program. But these are folks who need a foot in the door to get IT experience, or they just need the opportunity to explore their enthusiasm and their interest in public sector IT. And we say to them, absolutely, why not try? Why don't we give you the opportunity to bring your passion into our organization, we'll teach you up the work base piece, the piece that involves being embedded in our teams and in our work and our ticket queues, getting to see the work firsthand. And we'll also get you through a program of certifications that are meaningful to your role. So over the course of their seven to 12 month experience, give or take, typically, our associates aren't aren't with us for less than seven months. And typically, their experience takes them about 12 to 14 months on the high side. But we embed them from day one, with the team and IoT, they come from a really wonderful talent pipeline via our vendor partner of ours Brooks Source that handles the preliminary recruiting and talent pipelining. They bring us these terrific candidates of individuals who really come from such a diverse array of backgrounds and professional experiences. I have folks on my program who are cooks, who I've restaurant manager, I've got an arcade machine technician, I've got factory workers, I've got grocery store workers, I've got retail folks, I and I could I could just go on and on and on. We take these folks who were serving in jobs at the best of their ability, but they realized that that wasn't where their future was going to be. And they wanted to take a next step into something that was a meaningful career. So we open that door for them to come on site to embed with one of our teams, whether it's security or customer service, or cloud ops, or in.gov. And today, I have about 15 of these. They're embedded with one of the teams they're alongside operators with the work. And they're also pursuing a certification path that includes for example, the CompTIA portfolio. So A +, Network +, Security +, even Cloud +, Project +, we have folks who have done ECBA for Business Analytics, we have folks who have gone through Microsoft Azure, we have folks who have done their AWS certification, we're able to tailor their program for their their months of study with a balance of earn time, which is that work base piece, and learn time, which is the Hey, I'm taking actual time on the job and being paid to study for certifications. We we load balance each week between those two core responsibilities. And we put our individuals on basically a milestone program whereby they meet we assess them every month, they are getting a very high touch, not only from mentoring and coaching from me, from my associate from the Brooksource team, and also from their on site supervisors. We're really putting a community of interest around each one of these individuals to make sure that they're getting a lot of personal attention and development to help them be a success in their new role. And a quick quick statistic before I yield the floor here, I'm very proud to say that we have our 51st associate in the hiring pipeline. Right now. We've gone from two in February of 2020 to 51. As of today, as I'm saying this, almost practically three years to the day later, as of yesterday morning, I had graduated 19 individuals from my program into full performance roles here at the Indiana Office of Technology. And whereas we once just served IoT, we now support three other executive branch partners and I'm really proud of all the work that I'm that I get from these terrific folks who are who are taking that next step with us. Yeah, that's incredible. Glad to know those statistics and sort of where you are now and where you started. I'd love to hear just sort of a brief high level overview of the first year or so for one of your new associates after they're selected for the program. What's kind of the process as their first year goes on. So one of our associates when when she or he starts on day one. They're getting signed on with a program mentor a peer mentor, they're also getting a mentor here in the organization. And at least once a month as they move through the program, although not restricted to that, they're going to be meeting with their mentors support the program support and and also with me to make sure that they are really just just doing all the things that that they need to to be successful, they're going to move through typically two to three certifications, spaced out over the course of their program year. So for example, if I was just to take sort of a vanilla example, someone might come in and in that first 12 to 14 weeks, would be studying toward and achieving their CompTIA A plus core one and then moving to core two, they'd move on there after probably to network plus, and then thereafter to either Security Plus or potentially to a cloud program that might be useful to their jobs, they are going to be meeting with their colleagues all across the program and a weekly seal sync that we have on Thursday mornings so that they can learn more about what each other do and engage in pure partnership and small group exercise, really just just getting a good networking base across the organization. And then every Friday afternoon, every week, they are also engaged in a virtual networking session with a senior person here, either from IoT or another executive branch agency, again, just to expand their network and their knowledge of what we do as an organization. Let's see over the course of the 12 months, they're going to be evaluated on at least a monthly basis. We get feedback from supervisors, we meet with the associates, we meet with their supervisors make sure that, that they're coming along that they're able to adapt and succeed as an independent operator, that they are able to work well within a team. And then just that they are adapting to, you know, the mission needs of the team are serving on that we want to make sure that, for example, if we bring somebody into our security operations center, that they are not only working toward their certifications, but also you know, are they are they picking up our ticketing alert system? are they understanding their ticket queues? Are they working were with well with their colleagues? Are they giving the kind of work that we want to see up to their supervisors and senior officers. I'm very proud of the fact that typically we bring somebody into the program. And I'm not having to coach folks about please do more rather, on the flip side of that, it's more about coaching folks to like, Hey, you're brand new, it's okay not to be an expert yet. Because our folks just come in. And they're really passionate about contributing and getting into this, you know, ostensibly what their dream job, which is, which is terrific. And so we just want to make sure over the course of their their seal associate experience, they're really getting all the tools that they need to be a day one successful state employee. And if we're doing it the right way, then when they finally transition from the program over to state employment, there's it really should feel like absolutely no change. So this program has been in existence for a couple of years now. And how many associates would you say have moved into full time staff roles? And what's retention like? Alex, great question, we, we so far today have at about a 90% retention rate, we have hired in 51 associates with the 51st getting ready to start here within the next couple of weeks. And I'm very proud of the fact that every day I get to talk to folks who really want to make their career within state of Indiana, IT. I get to deal with a lot of folks who are very passionate about the opportunity they've been given. They're not seeking places to depart. They're, they're excited to contribute to our work. And, you know, we I can't say enough about our talent pipeline that we're finding these wonderful individuals who want to take this next step in their career. Sure, well, 90% sounds very impressive to me. So so congratulations on that. Yeah, sure. So I think this program is something that a lot of state IT offices are probably looking into right now. Any lessons learned or words of encouragement for other states who think they might want to do something like this? Oh, absolutely. You know, I think it can be very easy to think, to overthink this certification program. Really the the greatest value comes from the work-based learning the part of the program that individuals have on the day to day outside of just the certifications that they might be able to achieve. absolutely core to program success. One is having agency investment. So if any state or local partner wanted to have a program like this be successful, they need to have a person or persons, supervisors who are absolutely bought in who know that the folks that they're bringing in are developmental assets. And if they help them if they win the hearts and minds early and really put the time and attention into these individuals, they will serve with us for a long time. Second piece of just critical success is having a strong talent pipeline. And you know, I believe that there's there's plenty of individuals out who are looking for new chances. So just being open to look beyond tech credentials on resumes, and look at tangential skills, look what individuals have done and what they want to bring into your state your locality to be a valued for the for the greater good. And then finally, you know, this is, this is tough for us all who have had to deal with public budgeting and the constraints that we have around the work that we do. It's just having those jobs available on the back end. You know, for us, we have really strong partners from the State Personnel Department, we have very strong leadership from the state CIO, Tracy Barnes. I have wonderful executives and supervisors here across the Indiana Office of Technology, who, who have really invested in the goodness that we're trying to provide here and who believe in are providing good jobs for individuals who are looking to remake their careers in IT and, you know, seeing is how workforce is a priority for our governor hear in the year ahead. I'm certainly glad that we're also able to be contributing to that mission and, and re skilling great adults into these really critically needed career opportunities. Yeah, that's great sound advice, for sure. Well, Jon, thank you so much for the overview of this program. I think this is something that just makes a lot of sense and is beneficial not only to the IT office, but to people looking to expand their skills and get into a new kind of work. So thank you for that. But, of course, we aren't wrapping up just yet. As our listeners know, we always like to ask guests three fun questions about who they are outside of work. And this segment we call the lightning round. Are you ready? I love it. I'm ready. Okay. All right. So what was your dream job as a kid? Oh, first base for the Chicago White Sox. 100%. Even knowing going into it that I was a righty, not a lefty. And it wasn't until I quickly learned that I have zero tolerance and aptitude for hitting breaking pitches that I knew that that was perhaps not going to be my best, best option. Well, you never know. There's still a lot of if Yeah, if you all know someone who's offering trials, I will. All right. What are you feeling grateful for right now? Oh, that's easy. I'm super grateful for every single person in my SEAL program, who takes the leap of faith to say, hey, you know what, I'm an adult, I'm a career switcher. I am willing to jump off this deep end with you and move my career forward into into IoT I'm, I am so grateful for their time, their patience, their heart, and their courage to do that. And then beyond that, wonderfully grateful for my wife and my two kids there they keep me sane or not. I know that feeling. Okay, and finally, any fun facts about yourself that you'd like to share? Oh, well, let's see. I'm still lightly bitter that as a teenager, I missed out on Teen Jeopardy twice. I like to think that I remember a lot of very random and often consequential things. But sure enough, I did not make that cut and so heretofore I don't even think I can watch the junior competition unless for some reason I get a kid on there one of these days. Still you you really, Alex, your question. I'm having to revisit all those said tests once again. Hey, well, look, you can still do tryouts I wouldn't close the window just yet. I'm you know, I'm willing to put myself back in to take on these things. I like to watch the kids Jeopardy because I usually know most of the answers. Not always, but makes me feel good. Oh, yeah, much easier on TV than it is in the trial. I'll just throw that out. I bet. I bet. All right, Jon. Well, thanks again for spending some time with us today. As we mentioned in our intro NASCIO is focusing on workforce as a policy issue this quarter. Of course, it's something that's always top of mind for our NASCIO community. And this program is something that I think a lot of states will want to learn from. So thank you. I'm glad to come back anytime. Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk to your listeners today. This is a real honor for me and for IoT, and we really appreciate the collaboration. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thanks again for listening to NASCIO voices. NASCIO voices is a production of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers or NASCIO. And if you have a technology champion in your state, let NASCIO know about it. Nominations for our Technology Champion Award are open until February 24. You can learn more at nascio.org/awards. awards. Stay warm and happy Valentine's Day to all of our listeners. We love you