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When Boomers say bye-bye

What IT execs can do before top talent heads off to Del Boca Vista

By , Network World
January 06, 2014 02:27 PM ET

Network World - Could your IT organization handle an exodus of senior people? A lousy economy led many Baby Boomers to put off retiring, but companies shouldn't count on such delays to anchor their IT workforce planning initiatives. Now's the time to plan for the retirement of key talent -- and the legacy systems they built -- before those pros leave the workforce.

Let’s say you’re at a Fortune 50 company, and you’ve been managing their legacy systems and networks that you put in 15 or 20 years ago. What happens to them when you leave?

“Let’s say you’re at a Fortune 50 company, and you’ve been managing their legacy systems and networks that you put in 15 or 20 years ago. What happens to them when you leave?” asks Johna Till Johnson, president and founder of Nemertes Research.

Straightforward knowledge transfer -- having senior IT pros teach junior hires how to run the old systems -- isn’t going to cut it, Johnson warns. “Your bright young things don’t want to learn your creaky old operating system and programming language. And if you do teach them COBOL, you’ll soon discover everybody will cheerfully poach them.”

Instead, the savvy IT shops will make the most of talent -- young and old -- while advancing their enterprise technology strategy.

“Bring in the new people and say, ‘see these mainframes sitting in the basement? In five years they need to be gone. Figure out how we’re going to perform those same functions using state-of-the-art technology. Work with this 50- or 55-year-old guy who can tell you what’s going to break and what you can and can’t do,’” Johnson says.

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That keeps the younger workers challenged with appealing tasks, such as cloud and mobility initiatives. It also keeps the 60-somethings engaged.

With a workforce shortage across STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math -- fields, IT managers should be exploring all avenues to ensure a quality, stable workforce, says Joanna Young, associate vice president and CIO at University of New Hampshire (UNH).

Experienced workers are typically those workers in which the organization has invested the most. Organizations have trained and paid them over a period of time to contribute at a high level,” Young says, and “managers should consider extending the value of that investment as part of their overall workforce strategy.”

With proper workforce planning, IT leaders can find the right roles for more experienced pros, such as training or mentoring new staff, or maintaining or helping to retire legacy systems. That’s not to say older workers can’t be taught new skills, as well.

“Training an experienced worker in a new skill can be less expensive and have swifter results than a new worker, because the experienced worker ostensibly has already proven that he or she can successfully learn and apply new skills,” Young says. “And they have the benefit of knowing the organization, so can likely be contributing quickly, using the new skill.”

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