Aging workers and automation signal IT hiring problems

Datacentres in the US are finding it difficult to replace experienced staff when they retire. Patrick Thibodeau reports

Datacentres are being squeezed by two seemingly contradictory trends — an aging workforce and increasing automation — that are slowly draining IT operations of senior employees and making it harder to hire replacements.

That was the finding of a survey of 179 IT managers conducted earlier this year by Afcom, a North American industry association for datacentre managers. The results were released last month.

Nearly half of the respondents say it takes at least three months to fill senior-level technical and management positions, while 38% report that their datacentres employ fewer workers than they did five years ago.

To address the implications of such trends, datacentre executives need to train and promote workers to senior positions so that “when you go to hire, you are not trying to hire the highest-level positions,” says Afcom founder Leonard Eckhaus.

The association estimates that the pool of available senior-level data-centre workers will decline by 45% by 2015. “It’s already more difficult than ever to fill open positions in the datacentre,” he says.

Meanwhile, he says, as automation cuts datacentre staffs, people are hesitant to enter the IT field.

At the same time the workforce is shrinking, more and more IT workers are approaching retirement age. Nate Viall, a recruiter who specialises in finding application developers for the IBM iSeries, says 20% of the candidates in his database have 25 years or more of IT experience — more than triple the percentage in 1999.

“IT people are not working very far into their 60s,” he says. “If they have reasonable financial stability, they are bailing out.”

At the same time, IT manager Jamie Man, who heads the Indiana chapter of Afcom, says that at the healthcare company where he works, younger workers aren’t interested in working with older systems. “If they don’t see a GUI interface, they just don’t want to deal with it,” he says.

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