Good News: You’re in Demand. Bad News: So Is Your Staff

People with an information systems degree have begun to see that the IT labor market is picking up. According to the Society for Information Management, it’s a good time to be an IT worker, as higher budgets and salary increases follow corporate demand for experienced people and an improving economy. But there is another factor at work: turnover.

The IT industry faces a dual-front retention war, and things aren’t going to get better for a while. Understanding the two forces, and their implications, is necessary not only to help manage your own career, but to be a more effective manager, for those in supervisory roles. The first factor is the aging portion of the IT workforce. According to Gartner, one of the top IT challenges is baby boomers hitting retirement age. The market analyst firm quotes statistics that starting this year, 10,000 baby boomers will be able to retire each and every day. That will run over the next 19 years (20 years is considered the span of a generation).

Going with those people are knowledge and experience, often in areas of technology — think mainframe programming and administration skills — that are considered by many to be old hat. And yet, companies continue to need both the skills and personnel. For those coming up in the workforce, especially people who have recently received a degree or who are working for one now, perhaps in an online program, this is good news. A professional attitude and solid skills in what companies need done most will go a long way to stable employment. The other factor is high turnover among staff in their 20s and 30s, as Computerworld reports:

“They are looking for much more aggressive career development opportunities and the ability to learn new things quicker,” says Lily Mok, vice president at Gartner for CIO Research. “Traditionally, it took two or three years for a person to move up into the next level in an organization. They want to be on a faster track than that. They don’t want to stay in one spot for more than 12 or 18 months.”

Mok says that even with retention efforts, companies may be able to keep such people only a few years. From an employee view, this is an ideal circumstance, particularly if you are willing to stay longer than a year in a position. If you have the skills, you can find the stability. Supervisors will find this a frustrating time, because turnover will grow. There are a few strategies that might help:

  • See if older employees who want to retire would be open to acting as part-time consultants. If so, pair them with younger staff so you can get a transfer of knowledge.
  • Allow younger employees to gain a sense of ownership in their work. This may be difficult with existing systems, so they will at least need the ability to improve existing systems, not just work on bug fixes.
  • Cross train people on various jobs and responsibilities so you allow certain employees to become irreplaceable.

Being wanted is great. Learning how to keep people wanting you is even better.

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