Boomers Bid Farewell

Smart companies will negotiate flexible schedules to keep older workers on board.

Applicants over the age of 50 beating the streets in today's IT job market bear resumes that are commonly stigmatized as pricey and outdated, given recent leaps in technology and sweeping operational changes at many companies. Yet this crowd may prove to be the IT profession's salvation, especially over the next four years as baby boomers retire from the workforce in droves.

While some industry experts and executives claim that the looming baby boomer exodus is a lot of hype, most argue that its impact can't be overstated. The numbers seem to back up the latter position. In 2010, about one out of every three workers in the U.S. will be over 50. In 2012, there could be as many as 21 million vacant jobs but just 17 million workers to fill those posts, according to the Computing Technology Industry Association Inc. (CompTIA) in Oak Brook, Ill.

Steven Naylor, vice president and director of IT at FHLBank Topeka

Steven Naylor, vice president and director of IT at FHLBank Topeka

Image Credit: David MorrisIT employers are just waking up to the mounting crisis of baby boomers walking out the door en masse. These mature workers will take with them valuable institutional knowledge and the skills needed to run legacy systems. Savvy corporations should think right now about maintaining ties with older workers who are looking to power down -- but not entirely abandon -- their careers. Another corporate must-have: solid mentoring programs that pair up-and-coming IT executives with seasoned professionals.

"I don't believe the concern for a baby boomer talent exodus is overhyped at all," says Steven Naylor, vice president and director of IT at FHLBank Topeka in Kansas. "Clearly, there will be a significant shortage of talent as a result of an aging, retiring IT workforce. I personally believe there is only a moderate level of awareness regarding this issue among most companies."

FHLBank is part of an industry expected to be hit especially hard when baby boomers leave. Other markets that need to move quickly toward stopgap measures are the insurance, telecommunications and retail industries, as well as the automotive and aerospace sectors of the manufacturing industry, according to several industry watchers.

Government is also vulnerable. "About 400,000 federal employees could retire tomorrow," says Robert Rosen, CIO at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. Rosen is also president of Share, a Chicago-based IBM user group. "Obviously, this is a concern at NIH."

Concern over the loss of experienced IT talent also pervades FHLBank, which is therefore moving fast to address issues coming down the pike. "We are taking active steps to partner [more mature] individuals with less experienced staff on projects," says Naylor. "We are encouraging younger workers to volunteer and assume responsibilities for support activities normally held by more seasoned individuals, and we are exposing younger workers to direct training opportunities."

Rent-A-Center Inc. (RAC), a Plano, Texas-based electronics and furniture rent-to-own business has a similar strategy. "We are focused on growing our own leaders, and the biggest reason for this is the value we put on corporate knowledge and the emphasis we put on retaining that knowledge. It promotes our culture and helps define a career path for people," says David Oles, IT director of research and development at RAC. Still, RAC and other organizations are not so quick to write off older workers. "Mature workers who experienced their prime working years in a different time don't want to be overlooked for training and development," says Oles.

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