Preparing for the ageing workforce, IBM-style

Reports from the company's consulting arm are spurring preparations for changing demographics

Ageing workforces and falling birth rates in developed countries aren’t immediate threats, but they need to be planned for, says IBM New Zealand managing director Katrina Troughton.

IBM Business Consulting Services (which includes former PricewaterhouseCoopers staff) has released two studies on the impact of the greying of the employment pool and the lack of younger workers to replace the talent that’s leaving.

One of the reports, Addressing the Challenges of an Ageing Workforce, notes that “like an individual suffering hypertension, an organisation with an ageing workforce often feels no symptoms for many years”.

However, once the symptoms start being felt, it may be too late to effectively address them, the report says.

Troughton says IBM is taking its own advice and planning for the time when replacing older, experienced workers won’t be as easy as it is today.

“We have to make IBM’s culture inclusive,” she says. “Some parts of the IT industry have a very young feel.”

The moves in that direction include making sure career development programmes aren’t just aimed at younger staff members.

“When you’re 25, [career development] is at the top of your mind, but at 50, it’s just as important, especially if you’re going to work until you’re 65.”

IBM also has an initiative in Australia and New Zealand to rehire retired staffers on a part-time basis, Troughton says.

The scheme isn’t aimed at retaining older IT skills such as mainframe ones, she says.

“A technical architect is a technical architect and a billing specialist is a billing specialist, regardless of their age.”

IBM has been addressing the retirement of mainframe specialists for several years through a programme to train younger workers in mainframe skills.

The retiree rehiring programme, which is in pilot phase in Australia, still has some way to go, she says.

“We’ve got a lot to learn yet, about how we introduce people into it.”

However, she says, in five to ten years, “it will be a big opportunity for us”.

It’s necessary to take a long-term approach to the ageing workforce issue, rather than a short-term view focusing solely on the immediate skills shortage in some areas of IT, she says.

“We have to look at the next ten to 15 years, not the next two.”

IBM has escaped the worst of the current skills shortage, in part because of the availability of IBM workers from overseas to fill vacancies here, Troughton says.

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