Making the most of the coming talent drought – whatever your age

Everyone - from those close to retirement to new graduates - can benefit from the predicted IT job crunch

The massive looming exodus of baby boomers from the workforce doesn’t represent a mere changing of the guard. Both younger IT workers and seasoned executives can ride a tidal wave of opportunity, as long as they think strategically.

As the boomers start retiring, and demand for their skills increases, seasoned IT workers will be able to leverage their experience big time. One way to do that is to broker a deal around the crafting of an extensive exit report or interview, says Yang Lee, associate professor of information, operations and analysis at Northeastern University in Boston.

Departing baby boomers will hold all the cards as corporate officials scramble for information, Lee says. They’ll be asking questions such as:

“Do you know where the information is? Do you know how I should do such and such? How did workers do this when you were here?”, she says.

Exiting baby boomers will also be able to draw on their vast knowledge of the plethora of platforms that existed before the IT industry consolidated down to just a few operating systems from major vendors, experts say.

“It is much harder to find IT professionals with complex systems engineering skills and experience,” says Peter George, chief technology officer at Kronos, a workforce management company. Fading fast is experience with database systems, and middleware and development tools from companies such as IBM, Sun and the former Digital and Data General, he says.

Continued reliance on mainframes will also buoy the careers of retiring IT workers, says Don Pate, chief executive of mainframe software and services company Neon Enterprise Software.

“There are areas where the IBM mainframe is still alive and well,” he says.

For that reason, IT workers will be able to bargain for deals based on their experience with programming languages like Cobol and assembler. Expertise with IBM-specific operating systems, such as DB2, z/OS and VSAM, will also be in high demand, Pate says.

“It’s hard to find [institutes] that teach Cobol or older data-access methods,” says Tony Connor of recruitment firm Spherion.

For workers new to the field it will be important to think ahead, advises Paul Groce, a partner at New York-based executive search company Christian & Timbers. “Plot your career based on what the CIO of the future will look like,” he says.

According to Groce, a template for the CIO track of the future may look something like this: hone application development skills; move into an information architecture area; jockey for a senior operations position abroad, and return ready to grab the top IT post.

Playing the field is another option. “Become a free agent. High-impact workers will change jobs every two to four years, sometimes more frequently,” says Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of strategy at Yoh Services, a talent outsourcing service in Philadelphia.

For IT workers of all generations, honing basic engineering skills will also be crucial.

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