Cities big and small are making their way into the smart realm, putting sensors on everything from street lights to sensors, buildings to connected cars, and thus, making themselves “smart.”

But there’s very little in “smart” that is straightforward. And that includes talent.

According to panelists in a recent live webcast, a major obstacle in the path for a city to become “smart” is a clear strategy to find, attract, train and retain talented staff. Just as there is a cybersecurity talent gap, the panelists see an even larger one for smart cities. Skilled employees are desperately needed to keep a city running smoothly.

The participants in the Talent for Cities: Creating a Path to a Smart City Workforce panel included Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn, Chief Knowledge Officer; Vice President and General Manager for Cisco Services; Gordon Feller, Co-Founder of The Meeting of the Minds; Tim Draper, Founder of Draper University and Draper Associates; Scott Mauvais, Head of Civic Innovation for Microsoft; and James Weinberg, Chief Executive Officer of The FUSE Corps.

Draper predicts a dramatically changed future for smart cities – one that includes autonomous vehicles, smart buildings, drones and sewer systems that can also work in water replenishment.

Mauvais of Microsoft – which has worked to help cities fill the talent void through initiatives such as Code for America, the City Innovate innovation conference and MassChallenge – said that overall, cities are complex ecosystems, and that two things will affect their “smart” future: rising expectations for change, and dispersion of technical talent throughout cities as younger people grow up with technology skills and may not need to lean on a traditional municipal IT department for answers.

But none of that will happen without an educated and talented workforce. Cisco is a member of the IoT Talent Consortium, whose mission is to join the initiative to drive the IoT workforce transition.

“And we’re not talking about a small talent gap,” said Beliveau-Dunn of Cisco. “It’s millions of skilled professionals that will be needed. As a company, we are stepping in to help not because this is our job, but because there are gaps that need to be filled.”

She added: “With smart cities comes a rising expectation of how city services will be delivered. And cities are finding it daunting to even find qualified chief data officers.”

Most of the panelists found that the talent gap is partly due to what’s not being taught in schools and universities, saying the nation’s public education system is a monopoly that doesn’t provide future city professionals with the necessary training to work in the technology and public sectors.

Draper said: “We need to look at our education system, which is stuck in the 1800s. We need to find new ways to educate people and break the monopoly, and that can be done through online schools, school voucher initiatives, scholarships –those would be fabulous to get going so that people in the corporate world don’t have to train or re-train. The goal is that corporations don’t have to do all of the heavy lifting.”

“With smart cities comes a rising expectation of how city services will be delivered.

Draper added: “We are not trying to put anyone out of business, or take universities of out the role [of educating future city professionals]; we want to enable schools to teach IoT and digital communications. And it’s not that universities and schools don’t want to change; they are handcuffed by their own structure. But the problem is that change is happening too fast. What you skill someone on today has a shelf life of one year. We have to get people through school faster, and we have to ensure that they go through a program that is truly leading edge, not just core skills. Solutions are not being warehoused or shared because there is no time or a marketplace by city leaders. Build a roadmap and publish it. Share it because there’s not a lot of peer to peer knowledge that’s being exchange among cities.”

The FUSE Corps has helped to place digitally savvy professionals in cities to help it embrace the digital revolution, but that’s just one effort, noted Weinberg. “There is a role for government to partner with industry, but there are silos that prevent that from happening,” he said. “There is tremendous demand in cities for top talent, but cities really struggle to become a career destination. There is a tremendous need and not enough marketplaces for those two to find each other.” Currently, FUSE has 28 fellows that are working in 11 government partnerships, including Los Angeles County, Pittsburgh and New Orleans.

What is your city or enterprise doing to foster cyber-savvy talent? Let me know at