IT SHOPS are facing a demographic time bomb, according to a report by research firm Ovum. Two challenges are certain, said Tom Kacharvy, senior vice president of Ovum. "The impending mass retirement of baby boomers will deplete staff and starve many companies of critical skills. Meanwhile, a shortage of replacements due to a smaller crop of college graduates and a dramatic decline in students planning to enter IT-related fields will compound both the problem and the urgency facing user corporations."
The sweep of digital technologies and the transformation to a knowledge-based economy has created a robust demand for workers highly skilled in the use of IT. Since IT is an enabling technology for the entire economy, our failure to meet the demand for IT professionals could have severe consequences for Australia's competitiveness, economic growth, and job creation.
At the same time, computer science programs have not been drawing the great numbers of new students that they did in the late 1990s. Furthermore, the greying of the IT workforce is becoming more apparent. But these senior personnel are starting to retire and it will be some time before their replacements can achieve the same level of knowledge.
By 2010 the IT profession will split into four domains of expertise: technology, information, process, and relationships, according to Gartner. The landscape for IT professionals will radically change by that time. Enabled by high-speed global networks and driven by companies looking for highly competitive IT skills, knowledge bases, and services, global sourcing will become a standard part of companies' sourcing portfolios and this will put IT professionals in competition with their peers in other geographical markets.
As older workers exit, along with them go technological skills, industry and company knowledge, and seasoned judgment, including how to weigh the many factors that go into decision-making. Never before has there been a technological and cultural divide between generations as deep as the one we are witnessing at this time. Young people entering the workforce have been raised in an environment absolutely inundated with technology. This generation is expected to embrace future advances without any reserve or difficulty. Mature workers are unlikely to have the same readiness.
The older group is showing apprehension about how quickly the technology is changing. The old guard prefers a more rigid corporate approach to IT, while the younger group shows an edge mentality that is more agile and responsive to business needs. Individual companies must assume responsibility for addressing their staffing requirements and must do a better job forecasting what types of skills they will need in the future.
Len Rust is publisher of The Rust Report.