CIO Symmetry

Apr 1 2011   3:32PM GMT

Are aging Baby Boomers taking your IT wisdom with them in retirement?

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that retiring Baby Boomers will leave a record number of jobs open when they retire — by the time 2018 rolls around, we’ll be looking at a hard-core worker shortage. According to the attendees at FusionCIO conference last month, it’s happening already in IT.

One CIO who asked not to be named said that out of his 72 employees, more than a third (24 workers) could retire at any moment. And he was stressed about the fact that they could all walk at the same time, basically putting him in a solid state of hiring mode for months. The problem isn’t limited to just his team: He laughed and said the company literally had to issue a memo forbidding the use of conference rooms for retirement parties because his office had so many people retiring that it couldn’t find space for actual meetings.

The Baby Boomers gave birth to the Information Age. We are so focused on looking toward the future at new technology that sometimes we miss the importance of history. There’s the old cherry of never really knowing what you’ve until it’s gone: If you looked around your office right now, how many of your graying IT workers do what they do so competently that you never get to see how crucial their functions are, or how their absence might lead to a catastrophic failure of the process?

At my last employer, one IT guru had retired in May 2009, but he was still working in a consulting role as of February (making five times what he did as a regular employee). During his career, everyone knew that he was amazing, but no one had ever thought about how much pivoted around the information that was trapped inside one guy’s brain. They didn’t see that many processes literally could not function without his constant vigilance. In theory, he was brought back to mentor, but the mentees were so green that half of the information he was imparting flew totally over their heads. Every time he finished up his mentoring and left, a few months later some crisis would arise or the replacement quit and he’d be called back. And each return took more incentive for him to leave retirement life and return to the cubicle gulag.

Mentoring is critical as our aging Baby Boomers prepare to make the transition to retirement. With something as blatant and predictable as seniority, there’s no excuse for being taken by surprise by a retiring Baby Boomer.

What mentoring and knowledge transfer programs are in place in your organization? What are you doing to ensure that your brilliant fiftysomething IT professional that you rely on daily isn’t going to leave you and take with her all the magic that makes your legacy systems or installed base programs function?

Shoot me a comment and let me know what you’re doing to mitigate the pain of losing your valuable retirement-age IT workers.

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  • Rathweg
    i am mentoring younger workers and plan.to be around another 30 years whoever is worried about his staff retirement - pass my contact info along
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  • Rathweg
    where is an example of a company needing a mentoring program.? kind of like y2k CIO's expected to be off mzonframes well before the year 2000 i have been donig some efucating recently i find all my students are frim Brazil, India, China - what will it take to put an A into BIC? cheers
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