Stemming the Retirement Tide Stemming the Retirement Tide

CIOs may see a storm brewing on the employment horizon - if masses of older workers leave in a retirement exodus, they'll have to work double-time to replace them with younger applicants. And evidence suggests that CIOs don't have much time to wait.

Consider this: The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that as of May 2008, the country had more than 77 million baby boomers - people ages 44-62. In 2008, the oldest members of the baby boom generation turned 62 - the minimum age for claiming Social Security benefits. And this trend will continue for years. It's possible for wave after wave to retire year after year, which could create a tsunami of job openings that ravages the public-sector service landscape.

Government officials are already bracing themselves.

"We know from our own research that 60 percent of our staff is eligible to retire over the next 10 years," said Dan Ross, CIO of Missouri. "Whether they will or not remains to be seen, and I suspect with rising prices on food and gas, they will work longer in the workplace than traditionally." He admits that he is unable to predict the outcome, but said the potential exists for a huge problem.

Take a trip to California and the effects are already being felt. Since Joyce Wing, CIO of Santa Clara County, took her position in 2006, she's actively engaged in succession planning to mitigate circumstances that might arise if too many people leave within a short time period.

Wing manages approximately 210 staff members, and 70 of them could retire right now if they wanted, she said. If they did, this would create a dilemma similar to when the department experienced a personnel crisis three or four years ago after the county offered staff a two-year retirement incentive package.

Video: Missouri state government uses Second Life to attract new IT workers.

"I had 31 people walk out in one day. That took us about a year to try to recover; that was hard. We tried to prepare, and a lot of people waited until the last minute because they weren't sure if they wanted to retire or not, and so they decided the last week," Wing said. She estimates that about 50 percent of county employees will be able to retire in 2010 or 2011. Naturally most states are trying to recruit fresh talent to mitigate the predicted worker shortage, but the results aren't comforting.

In September 2007, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) released a report, State IT Workforce: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?, that found a staggering 80.4 percent of survey respondents from 46 states said they were having difficulty recruiting new employees to fill vacant IT positions. Fifty-four percent of them said the shortage of candidates hindered strategic IT initiatives.

To many in government, the message is clear: Recruit more aggressively. Now.


The New Wave

There always will likely be enough preretirement-age applicants in their 30s, 40s and 50s eager to fill voids left by outbound baby boomers; many employers are also interested in recent college graduates or those who will graduate soon. These younger citizens are commonly called Millennials, many of whom could grow into government careers.

Demographers disagree on exactly what birth years make someone a Millennial, though it's generally accepted that the first Millennials were born around 1977. For government, what's more important than when they were born is how to get them into public service.

Bill Willis, deputy CIO of North Carolina, said IT departments should accommodate Millennials' technology habits in order to attract them to the public-sector work force. "We may have to get more flexible," he said. "Right now, security demands are pushing us, in many places, more and more

Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  | 

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.