The Graying Before the Boomer Exodus

By Deb Perelman  |  Posted 2007-08-02 Print this article Print

Nary a day goes by that a press release doesn't cross eWEEK inboxes about the aging of the IT work force, and the potential havoc that will be wrecked upon the workplace when Baby Boomers retire, taking their substantial business knowledge and bulging head count with them.

A Forrester study released this week further investigated this conundrum, laying out steps that CIOs should be taking now to prepare for a wave of retirements set to begin around 2015.

Or will they?

While there is little doubt that Baby Boomers will indeed retire at some point in the future, and the numbers of younger IT professionals entering the field have little chance of compensating for the voluminous loss, there are other sociological trends that are whittling away at the once-unwavering notion that all U.S. workers retire at 65.

By the year 2020, there will be more workers over age 55 grinding away than at any other time in U.S. history, according to an article on MSNBC Aug. 1. The U.S. workplace will be transformed by an explosion of flexible work schedules and a host of technologies that make work life easier, leading to a swath of Boomers spending their golden years at work.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the number of workers age 65 or older will double to almost 10 million within 10 years, and will account for 6.4 percent of the total working population. And—hold your hats—the number of individuals toiling away past the age of 75 will account for 1.2 percent of the work force, or 2 million workers.

In 2005, 24 million, or 17 percent of all U.S. workers were over 55 and this is projected to surge to 38 million, or 24 percent of workers by the year 2017.

The positive aspects of a graying work force stand to include more flexible schedules, job sharing, telecommuting and less overtime, things working moms and dads have been requesting for years, but the real tipping point could be an aging work force.

An aging work force might also have other potential impact: videoconferencing could boom, as older workers find it harder to travel for business trips, as could a need for large screen computers and large-lettered keyboards to accommodate diminished eyesight.

Yet, IT—and in particular skilled software engineers—stands to be especially hard hit by impending labor shortages, as will aerospace, defense, the power industry and health care.

Furthermore, intergenerational conflicts in the workplace are expected to hit a fever pitch, as 69 percent of Baby Boomers anticipate working past retirement age, according to the AARP. Older workers may resent that they still can't afford to retire while younger workers may feel that they are being taken less seriously because of their age.

"It's like a train wreck in slow motion," Tamara Erickson, co-author of the "Work force Crisis: How to Beat the Coming Shortage of Skills and Talent," told MSNBC about the impending shortage of workers and the challenges employers will face. |

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