Building IT Workforce on Both Ends of Age Spectrum

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With baby boomers preparing for retirements and ever-shrinking numbers of young people opting for a career in technology, the IT industry is collectively wondering where it’s going to find skilled workers. Offshore outsourcing has had mixed results so far, and neither it nor automation can supply the combination of critical-thinking, business and advanced-technology skills needed to meet the enterprise IT challenges of the next decade and beyond.


“By 2010, just three-and-a-half years from now, nearly one in three workers in the United States will be over the age of 50,” said Gretchen Koch, director of CompTIA’s skills development program. “You have a large number of workers getting ready to retire or needing to work longer, coupled with fewer workers to the workforce. What we’ve heard anecdotally is that a lot of students have seen their parents lose their jobs in IT, or their parents have friends who lost jobs. They’re not advising their children to pursue an IT career.”


Indeed, this trend is already starting to manifest itself in particular geographic regions, she added. “What we’re hearing in some regions more than others, demand is already outstripping supply of appropriately skilled workers in IT, which is bringing those salaries up, but we have to get more kids interested in pursuing IT as a career. In the short term, we’re looking at a potential crisis in the IT industry of not having enough skilled workers.”


Thus, the IT industry is going to have to ask some difficult questions of itself now and in the next few years and start coming up with some answers, Koch said. “What does American industry need to do across the board to deal with these changing demographics? What does the workplace need to do to adjust to these realities? How do they keep these older workers interested in working longer, particularly those engaged in critical job functions like IT?”


To retain older skilled professionals in the labor pool, CompTIA, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and other organizations have formed the Alliance for an Experienced Workforce. One aspect of this association includes training workers over 50 on various technologies, especially in areas such as networking, database, apps development, project management and support.

As for younger workers, Koch pointed to youth academies operated by companies such as Cisco and Microsoft as good examples of building up the pipeline of technology talent. Additionally, CompTIA has a couple of irons in that fire. “We’ve really drilled down on how this impacts IT. We have a front-row seat. One of the programs I manage is our Education 2 Careers (E2C) program. We’re dealing with academic institutions as members of E2C on a daily basis who are telling us that the numbers (of students majoring in) IT and computer science programs are way low. They’re struggling to get those numbers back up and that interest ginned up again. We have two committees—the Workforce Investment Advisory Committee and the IT Certification Committee—that have representation from HP, Oracle, IBM, Microsoft and other large providers.


“They are very concerned about this issue,” Koch said. “What we’re doing is working with them to create campaigns and get the word out to students and parents in particular. We need to change perceptions and make them aware of the job opportunities and that salaries are on the increase. Also, we should make them aware of the fact that IT cuts across all industries. Regardless of what industry your child may be interested in — finance, entertainment, health care — there’s an IT component in all of those. It can be an exciting career path for any industry they choose.”


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