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Staying Power

Smart companies are enticing their older, wiser IT workers to remain on the job a little bit longer.

September 6, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Norma Veta, 74, an IT retiree from The Aerospace Corp. in El Segundo, Calif., spends two days a week helping her son's family and managing several rental properties. The other three days, she returns to Aerospace to work on special IT projects. After 40 years with the R&D and engineering services company, she knows the payroll and benefits systems almost as well as the faces of her three grandchildren.

Nine months after retiring from a 28-year career as an IT infrastructure specialist at Hartford Technology Services Co. in Hartford, Conn., Ken Klein, 62, is taking sailing lessons, spending months at a time traveling with his wife, exploring volunteer opportunities with Habitat for Humanity, collecting a pension and still working 20 hours a week on IT projects at the subsidiary of The Hartford Financial Services Group.

Welcome to the 21st century's version of retirement, an increasingly longer stretch of life that for many IT professionals is just as likely to include new technology training and mentoring assignments as tango lessons or road trips.

"People used to think of retirement as a five- or 10-year period, but now people see they'll have as much as 30 years and are looking at how to spend those years incorporating some element of what we'd call work," says Tamara Erikson, a consultant at The Concours Group in Kingwood, Texas, and co-author of a forthcoming book on the effect of demographic shifts on the workplace.

According to recent research by the American Association of Retired Persons in Washington, 80% of baby boomers plan to work at least part time during their retirement. Most have no desire to work full time, however. They want flexible working arrangements, project-based assignments and part-time status that enables them to travel, volunteer and pursue their leisure interests while remaining engaged in challenging work with colleagues.

Norma Veta of The Aerospace Corp.
Norma Veta of The Aerospace Corp.
Image Credit: Lara Jo Regan

Human resources professionals say companies offering such arrangements benefit by retaining skilled and knowledgeable workers longer. This is especially critical now, as the population between the ages of 35 and 44—the prime executive development years—is actually declining, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Moreover, the fastest-growing segment of the workforce is the over-55 set.

For IT, there's a double whammy. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that 23% fewer students are enrolling in computer science programs that would prepare them to take over key IT positions. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor is forecasting a 46% increase in the number of jobs for computer software engineers between 2002 and 2012.

Both trends coincide with the demographic fact that over the next 15 years, one out of four U.S. workers will hit his 60s and likely begin contemplating retirement.

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