Baby boomer exodus may cause hiring headaches: report

The pending retirement of many aging tech workers means IT managers will need to work hard to replace them, research firm says

IT professionals could use the inevitable retirement of millions of baby boomers to get higher salaries, better benefits and long-term job security, according to Forrester Research, but at the same time, IT managers will face a skills shortage that could hinder IT’s ability to support a business.

With an estimated 25 million Americans set to retire by 2020 across all industries — and mass retirements of baby boomers predicted in other Western nations — Forrester Research says IT job seekers will have the upper hand when dealing with hiring managers eager to replenish lost expertise. According to recruitment firm Robert Half Technology’s most recent survey of about 1,400 CIOs, some 16% planned to hire IT professionals during the first quarter of this year — a number that represents the largest hiring increase since the fourth quarter of 2001.

According to Forrester, which has also researched the issue, “The IT job market is hot once again. High demand for constrained pool has shifted the leverage to candidates”. Forrester recently released a paper detailing best practices in recruiting IT talent and examined in another report how the loss of baby boomers would affect US IT departments.

“IT professionals have more options and are pickier in their employment choices. Because there is great demand, IT workers, especially those with highly sought-after skills, require extra wooing from IT leaders,” according to Forrester.

Adding to the demand is the fact that fewer young people are looking to IT for careers. According to the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, there was a 70% decline in interest in Computer Science majors between 2000 and 2005 and a 17% drop in Computer Science graduates since 2005. In response, Forrester says CIOs will have to expand their searches for talent beyond existing enterprise IT workers and sell the cultural benefits of working in IT on top of considerable compensation packages.

“CIOs who fail to face the problem head-on within IT will face shortages that affect IT’s ability to deliver on strategic business plans,” one Forrester report reads. “CIOs must diversify their talent pool by drawing from [tertiary] students, current IT professionals and business professionals instead of targeting other enterprise IT professionals as the primary source of talent.”

Forrester recommends CIOs look to potential candidates before they reach tertiary education level, because many students may not have considered the industry for their careers.

IT managers also should continue to target universities that may be a good match for the company based on IT and business enrolment. Forrester says CIOs should send representatives into local schools to present at career days, job fairs or in the schools’ computer classes. Internships are another way to attract young talent, Forrester says.

Current IT professionals represent the next logical pool of potential candidates. Forrester says IT leaders may need to revamp their existing approach to recruiting IT talent and engage with human resources departments to find the right matches for IT positions. One often-overlooked area is IT contractors, Forrester points out; many workers will remain on contract because the pay is usually higher than that of salaried employees.

“CIOs need to periodically review their contractor base to determine if they are employable,” the report reads. Sunset clauses in work agreements with contactors can help IT managers avoid overpaying for services via outsourced workers for too long, the research firm says. “Otherwise, happy contractors are content to ride the gravy train for years — commanding fees that cost more than if they drew a salary.”

Last, Forrester recommends that IT hiring managers look outside IT departments to business groups for potential candidates. “IT leaders should already be marketing the accomplishments of the IT organisation to business users, but these programmes need to market the careers aspect of [IT] as well,” Forrester says.

Ultimately, IT managers must act now to address the impending loss when existing staff retires and to avoid a drop in IT candidates as demand for technology skills increases and the supply fails to keep up, Forrester says.

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