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Research: IT Generation Gap Overblown

By Deborah Rothberg  |  Posted 2006-10-30 Print this article Print

A new report from Forrester argues that the dismal accounts of a drained or poorly trained IT workforce are both irresponsible and inaccurate.

By now, nearly everyone has heard the dismal account of what generational shifts in the technology workforce will mean for the future of IT: The old guard is soon to retire, few want to join the new guard, and skilled workers are only getting harder to come by.

A report, "CIOs: Avoid War Between IT's Twentysomethings and More Mature Workers," released Oct. 24 by Forrester Research analyst Phil Murphy, argues that this position is both irresponsible and just plain wrong.

The report makes a case that a recent sentiment among bloggers and pundits is that mature workers should get out of the way, as IT belongs to the twenty-somethings, is destructive--by fanning the flames of this underlying rift--and potentially illegal, if older workers are actually cast away on account of their age.

In reviewing stories about mature techies, the report notes the way these stories have gotten twisted.

For example, according to the report, claims that legacy technology cannot be modernized are "patently false."

"It is more accurate to say that some legacy systems may not integrate easily with modern technology. Remember, mainframes were on the planet first, and subsequent technology was designed to be incompatible with it… More to the point, incompatibility is sometimes the price of change in that a break with the past spurs the ability to progress," writes Murphy.

The report also eschews what it sees as a prevalent belief that old dogs cannot be taught new tricks, arguing that it is more likely that they haven't been given the opportunity to, as only a few organizations strive to enrich their older employees, "worried that they won't be around long enough to pay back their investment."

Other aging workforce misnomer the report aims to shoot down is the notion that Baby Boomers will retire en masse and that COBOL is dead.

To read more about the future of COBOL, click here.

Pointing out that as the last big crop of COBOL workers was trained in 1980, as well as the fact that most Baby Boomers don't retire at 65 anymore because they cannot afford to, IT will not see an abrupt but trickling departure of these workers, and not for some time.

Advising CIOs to leverage the complementary skills of all workers, managers are encouraged to focus on the "middle third" of IT workers, who will either stay behind or learn new skills depending on how they are managed.

CIOs were additionally encouraged to build project success on older workers' business knowledge and their relationship with key users, as they will often see synergies that younger workers could miss, as well as mentor younger workers to accelerate bringing their technology skills online.

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