Stemming the Retirement Tide Stemming the Retirement Tide

computers, they portray workers unflatteringly.

"Ten years ago we went into the ninth-grade class here in the capital city and asked ninth-graders to draw a picture of what IT professionals look like, and they all drew nerdy, white, bald guys with black glasses with a paper clip holding them together and wearing lab coats," he said. And in recent years, the portrayals haven't changed much except for more female professionals being depicted the same way.

So how interested, exactly, are young people in IT careers?

Recent data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) at the U.S. Department of Education suggests that university technology degrees may not yet be ready for the endangered list.

The NCES Digest of Education Statistics compiled in 2007 presents the following information on recent bachelor's degrees earned by students:

  • 47,480 computer and information science degrees were conferred in the 2005-2006 school year, compared to 44,142 in the 2000-2001 school year;
  • 67,045 engineering degrees were conferred in the 2005-2006 school year, compared to 58,315 in the 2000-2001 school year;
  • 14,770 mathematics and statistics degrees were conferred in the 2005-2006 school year, compared to 11,171 in the 2000-2001 school year; and
  • 20,318 physical sciences and science technologies degrees were conferred in the 2005-2006 school year, compared to 17,919 in the 2000-2001 school year.

 

Golden Years and Golden Resources

Although CIOs are in hot pursuit of younger applicants, most of them aren't disregarding the value of older, more experienced workers. It's quite common for government to lure back retirees as consultants or part-time employees.

California, for example, devised a way for retirees to return to employment. In September 2006, California unveiled its Boomerang program, an online database that allows retirees to register for part-time work and input their interests and skills. On the back end, state agencies can search through the registrant data to see who the best fits are for open positions. Andrew Armani, director of California's eServices office, which helps develop state e-government solutions, said Boomerang had 2,586 retired state annuitants listed as of July 31, 2008.

"We've seen departments hiring from that list, and I've had a lot of great feedback about it because it's really easy," Armani said. "You have got information for retirees right there, and the discipline that they're either looking for or they're expert in, and it's been very successful."

Boomerang is also a cost-effective method of acquiring talent. "You don't really have to pay benefits to retirees because they're already drawing benefits, so all you have to give them is straight salary," he said.

Another approach may be to create incentives for older workers to delay retirement. The federal government already does this, indirectly, through the Social Security system - the longer people wait to retire, the better the benefits. However, state governments seem less receptive. In the 2007 NASCIO survey, 93.3 percent of respondents said they didn't offer incentives to employees to postpone retirement.

Many cities and counties may be similarly hesitant because of the lukewarm economic climate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, state and local governments are considering cuts in retiree pension and benefits programs between 2006 and 2016. If this happens, there will likely be fewer people competing for public-sector positions.

On the other hand, reduced benefits and pensions in a bearish economy - or simply the need to survive in such an economy - could motivate older workers to delay retirement.

"A lot of companies have dropped retiree health programs; they don't exist anymore. So in order to get health benefits, at least until you're 65 and eligible for Medicare, you have to keep working," said Eric Toder, senior fellow of the Retirement Policy Program at the Urban Institute. The program studies economic and demographic trends in

Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  |  GT Staff Writer

By day, Hilton Collins is a staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines who covers sustainability, cybersecurity and disaster management issues. By night, he’s a sci-fi/fantasy fanatic, and if he had to choose between comic books, movies, TV shows and novels, he’d have a brain aneurysm. He can be reached at hcollins@govtech.com and on @hiltoncollins on Twitter.