You'd think the words "brain drain" would strike fear into the hearts of IT managers. As the calendar has turned to 2008 -- and the oldest baby boomers are now eligible to receive Social Security -- it has become clear that growth in the number of older workers will soon surpass the growth in the number of those just starting out. In eight year's time, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in four workers will be 55 or older. And particularly in IT, there's not a big influx of new talent. According to the Computing Research Association, computer science enrollments dropped 14 per cent each year between 2004 and 2006.
Although IT organizations certainly understand these workforce trends, many are not taking significant measures to mitigate the risks that the loss of intellectual capital seems to portend. Even outside of IT, many companies seem unconcerned by boomer retirements. In a 2006 survey of 488 companies conducted by Buck Consultants, only 42 per cent of the respondents said that the aging workforce was a significant issue, and 29 per cent said it had little or no significance.
And in a nationwide study of 550 human resources managers conducted by Monster.com last year ( view PDF ), only 12 per cent of the respondents said they consider knowledge retention a high priority within their companies, even though one-third said they expect at least 20 per cent of their workforce to retire in the next decade.
The inescapable conclusion seems to be that many businesses are perfectly content to see their boomers walk out the door. And because so few organizations have taken the retirement issue seriously, companies that want to transfer knowledge from older to younger workers have few models to follow. As a result, those that are attempting to get ahead of the retirement wave are finding themselves pretty much on their own.