Monday, April 2, 2012

IT's Lost Generation

Hopefully I am not the only one that has noticed, but we will be facing a serious shortage of IT professionals in the next 10 to 12 years. I often quip about being the youngest person in IT at our Worcester campus for 22 years, I am now 40. I think that was reasonable when I was in my 20's or even pushing early 30's, but it isn't an encouraging sign that the youngest person on our IT staff is 40. There really is a lost generation of IT professionals.

Generally speaking, this growing issue is becoming very apparent to most large companies. What has caused this problem? Here are some key contributors that have happened over the past 10 years - depleted staffing levels due to anemic budgets, outsourcing, off-shoring, and stagnate growth opportunities. The recent economic downturn has exasperated the issue. With an 8.3% unemployment rate there is a deep pool of 35 to 50 year old men and women seeking jobs. They are people that are willing to take significantly less money because they have been unemployed for a substantial amount of time. Moreover, it has caused immobility for the current IT staff. People are staying in their current jobs longer, not seeking other opportunities, and they are not being promoted up the ranks because of the extensive amount of layoffs over the past 3 years. In many large companies, the same people have staffed entry-level IT positions for 10 years; there isn't a healthy infusion of young talent entering IT.

In 10 to 12 years most the people I know in information technology, from infrastructure support to developers to IT leaders, will be near the end of their careers or retired. Scary! No really, it is very scary. Many of today's large companies are promoting "leadership" and "chart your course" programs in their organization to help address the growing concern. My initial thought after attending one of these programs, if all these people close to 50 are charting their course now they have been lost at sea for a long time. Fortunately if history serves us right, when the market place opens up due to the significant retirements (estimated at 10,000 to 12,000 a day for the next 12 years) there will be a flood of ambitious individuals diving into the IT job pool to take advantage of the burgeoning salaries. But will they have the skills required?

I am not just talking about technology skills, think about the skills required to be a successful IT professional. Soft skills like communication with customers, collaboration with IT colleagues and business partners, basic business skills to evaluate the cost effectiveness of a solution, IT governance, and understanding the volumes of process that embodies any corporate environment. I have worked with a lot of people over the years, and I can tell you that understanding the dynamics of working for a global organization is typically more daunting then learning the latest technology. 

When I first entered information technology in the early 1990's there was a broad diversity in age. The people on our help desk and end user computing were in their early to mid 20's, IT trainers, developers, and server technicians were in their 30's, our IT director was in his early 40's, and the vice presidents were in their late 40's to early 50's. A very healthy mix that doesn't exist in todays corporate IT staffs. 

In my next blog post, I am going to discuss what I think we need to do as IT leaders to prepare  our companies for this challenge.

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