The Great Baby Boomer Migration

By Katherine Spencer Lee

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The numbers alone show that baby boomer retirements will impact many IT departments soon: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2008, 22 million workers aged 45 years or older will leave the workforce, primarily due to retirement.

Within that group, two IT job categories are expected to see a higher-than-average number of departures from the workforce—technical writers, and operations and systems researchers and analysts—and no doubt many others will be affected.

Has your firm taken steps to prepare?

In a recent survey by our company, 55% of executives polled said they were concerned about losing key staff to retirement in the next five-to-10 years. Not surprisingly, 78% said their organizations are taking steps to compensate for the loss of baby-boom-age employees.

If your firm is behind the curve, however, there is still time to implement measures to minimize the impact on your department.

Succession Planning

Succession planning—grooming junior staff to move into senior roles—can help ensure a smooth transition during retirements and when people leave for other jobs or must take an unexpected leave of absence.

While it may seem obvious that the most senior employee should be the successor, the choice isn’t always so cut-and-dried. The person who is next in line may not possess the right skill sets for advancement. For example, someone may be an expert in C# programming but lack the interpersonal skills to manage a team of programmers. Think about the qualities essential for success in the role before making a final selection.

Once a successor has been identified, training should begin immediately. You want to give the person plenty of time to learn the ins and outs of the senior position and to receive the necessary guidance to move into that role when the time is right.

Encourage Mentoring

Another way to reduce the impact of baby boomer retirements is by ensuring their knowledge is shared with others before they leave.

Consider which areas of expertise are most likely to be affected by the departure of baby boomer employees in the coming years. Then, ask those expected to retire to serve as mentors; sharing their know-how with less experienced employees.

Mentoring not only helps the next generation of IT talent enhance their skills, but it can also provide rewards to those who serve as mentors. Being asked to assume a mentoring role shows individuals that the firm values their contributions, which can boost their confidence level and give them greater job satisfaction.

Ease the Transition

Finally, recognize that retirement doesn’t have to mean employees suddenly break away from working for your company. A recent Conference Board study found that baby-boomer workers increasingly want to remain in their jobs for both personal fulfillment and financial reasons.

Options such as part-time work and consulting often appeal to those who want to stay in the workforce but also seek to spend more time on outside interests. Promoting these work arrangements can help you retain baby boomers’ expertise and involvement when they might otherwise decide to retire completely.

Be open to considering new roles for those willing to stay with your firm, such as allowing someone to apply his or her knowledge as a trainer rather than continuing in a hands-on IT position.

Baby boomer retirements don’t have to spell disaster for your department. If you plan ahead and consider ways to retain their expertise, you can not only minimize the disruption but also help to ensure their contributions continue for many years to come.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the North America and Europe, and offers online job search services at www.roberthalftechnology.com.