IT Managers Unfazed by Impending Boomer Brain Drain

Thousands of baby boomer IT workers are nearing retirement age and threatening to take decades of valuable insights about proprietary IT operations with them as they leave.

But most IT leaders either aren't paying heed to the warning signs, or they seem to believe that the inevitable is still years away from affecting them or their IT shops. In Computerworld's latest Vital Signs survey, 60% of the 233 respondents said their organizations haven't taken any steps to keep retirement-age IT workers from waltzing out the door.

At Hilton Hotels Corp., "we don't have a looming concern in the next five to seven years" about attrition among the company's 650 IT workers worldwide, says Laurel Bailey, a spokeswoman for the hotel chain's technology group in Memphis. "After that, we may need to start looking at it."

In fact, some companies may see impending retirements as a good thing. Many retirement-age IT workers "are being pushed out the door because the CFO doesn't want to carry their high salaries," says David Foote, chief research officer at Foote Partners.

But some IT managers are taking the threat of an IT brain drain seriously. In the Vital Signs survey, 19% of respondents said they've established flexible schedules to accommodate IT workers nearing an exit, while 12% said they've offered part-time work, and 4% said they've offered delayed-retirement plans.

One innovative technique is to create a division of retirement-age workers who agree to become part-time subcontractors, says Tom Casey, senior vice president and workforce transformation practice leader at BSG Concours.

The concept, which Casey says just a handful of IT organizations have tried so far, benefits employers and retirees alike. There are recruitment, hiring and training savings for companies that retain performers they know and trust who can gradually transfer their knowledge to others.

The benefit to retirees: "They can continue to do something they love" while also pursuing their retirement interests, Casey adds.

But such programs require careful attention. "You still have to manage those employees," says Stephen Pickett, CIO at Penske Corp. in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. "I would think most organizations would want an outsourcer to manage those employees."

Neal Ganguly, CIO at CentraState Healthcare, says he would consider forming a division of retirement-age IT subcontractors, with the expectation that the older workers would be phased out over time. But that wouldn't work in all scenarios and jobs, he says. For instance, an older IT project manager was recently unsuccessful in his bid to work part-time at CentraState rather than retire. "We needed someone full time," says Ganguly. "You can't have a .5 project manager."

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