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Stay Just a Little Bit Longer

You could head off a looming IT skills shortage with creative use of retiring baby boomers.

By Kathleen Melymuka
March 8, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The retirement of baby boomers will bring a number of workforce challenges, including a shortage of the kind of IT skills that can't be outsourced. In the March issue of Harvard Business Review, Tamara Erickson and Bob Morison of The Concours Group, a consulting and research firm in Kingwood, Texas, along with co-author Ken Dychtwald, suggest that there's a pool of workers who are ready, willing and able to fill the gaps. Erickson and Morison explained to Kathleen Melymuka how harnessing this resource will have profound implications for the way we view work.

You make some startling points about the decline in the rate of U.S. workforce growth. What problem will companies be facing over the next decade or so?
Erickson:
The problem is demographics—the combination of decline in birthrate and baby-boomer bulge. There are not enough younger workers to come in and take their place.
Morison: The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the U.S. will be 10 million workers shy by 2010, but more important, there will be a skills shortage, because if the baby boomers were to retire on schedule and en masse, there aren't enough younger workers up to speed to take their place.

It's hard to believe this will be a problem in the IT world, where so many companies have cut back workforces and outsourced jobs, leaving countless skilled IT workers unemployed.

Tamara Erickson of The Concours Group
Tamara Erickson of The Concours Group
Erickson: IT is interesting. It's tough to predict how it will shake out due to immigration—a big variable in looking at any demographic pattern—and outsourcing, which hits the IT sector most particularly. But even there, shortages are still predicted. A recent study of government agencies showed 75% will face shortages of qualified IT staff in the next three to four years.
Morison: There are two species of IT workers: those involved in the technology, and those who have to know about the business and how applications are going to support business processes. Those on the more applied side are the ones who tend to be more experienced, and IT organizations are going to see skills gaps as those people leave the workforce. By definition, those jobs can't be outsourced.

What approaches should companies take to recruit and retain the right people over the next few decades?
Erickson:
Make human resource practices more friendly to mature workers. Put in place flexible retirement packages that allow people to phase out rather than drop off a cliff. Look for creative ways to recruit populations other than the young. Structure health care and pension coverage to allow people to


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