Job Shadowing Sheds Light on Defense Work

By Stephen Barr
Monday, February 5, 2007

The first questions were right to the point: Is there a lot of paperwork in applying for a federal job? What's the easiest way to get a security clearance?

The questions came from Washington area high school students participating in the Information Technology Job Shadow Day at the Defense Department, one of 26 agencies hosting events last week aimed at recruiting the next generation of computer professionals into government.

As the shadow day activities underscored, many federal agencies are trying to build a recruitment pipeline that goes beyond colleges and into high schools, where teenagers can be introduced to federal work through summer jobs, internships and scholarship programs.

"We're hitting all ages," said Joyce France, director of the management services directorate for Defense's chief information officer. "We want to reach back to high schools, and show them how critical and important information technology is, and grow these students for the Defense Department and the federal government and for private industry."

Like other parts of the government, Defense is concerned about its aging workforce. The department has about 69,000 technology professionals in its civil service ranks, and officials estimate that 10,000 will be eligible to retire at the end of this year.

Not all of them will leave, of course, but Defense officials are looking to the future and want to make sure that teenagers understand the importance of math, science and English courses as building blocks for technology careers.

For the job shadow day, the Pentagon revved up briefings and tours worthy of visiting dignitaries.

Lt. Gen. Michael W. Peterson, the Air Force chief information officer, welcomed one group of students. Army Maj. Jim Enicks, who has served in Iraq and currently works for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shared his experiences with another. Civilian executives and managers, including France, Debra Filippi and John Venit, offered advice and fielded questions.

Tour stops for the students included the National Military Command Center, which links the defense secretary to other top government leaders during emergencies; the office of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates (who was not in); the Pentagon courtyard; and the 9/11 Memorial Chapel.

One group of students started their Pentagon day with a "talk show" segment taped by the Pentagon Channel, the in-house TV and Web broadcast service.

Two Defense computer scientists, Alex Eisen and Kunal Johar, urged the students to look into education scholarships provided by Defense and to think about what they want out of life and how a technology career might help them achieve personal goals.

Defense officials told the students they looked for potential hires who had good grades and had tried to apply their skills, by building a Web site or by using commercial software to compile data.

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