IBM User Group President Warns Of IT Personnel Shortage

The public sector will be particularly hard-hit, he says. One increasingly popular solution, he suggests, is for ITers to retire and then return as consultants to new posts that are more interesting and less stressful.

W. David Gardner, Contributor

October 7, 2005

3 Min Read

Alarmed at the loss of key FEMA personnel and the looming wholesale retirement of IT specialists at other federal agencies, a federal CIO manager who heads an important IT user group is stepping up a campaign to retain and recruit specialists in the IT field.

Robert Rosen, president of the independent IBM SHARE user group, said the shortage of IT experts is likely to turn critical in a year or two.

The problem generally persists throughout federal agencies and also in business and other large organizations, Rosen said in an interview Friday. “And it goes beyond IBM,” he added. “The IT industry as a whole has to deal with it. It’s a disaster just waiting to happen. People are just startng to understand it.”

He noted that IT enterprises are increasingly working to retain experienced personnel. One tactic – bringing back retired IT specialists as part-time contractors after they retire – has met with come success, Rosen noted. He cited the case of an IT manager who retired, took one day off, and then returned to his enterprise as a contractor. He said many are retiring as managers, but returning as “technologists” and enjoying their new posts, which are more interesting and less stressful.

Rosen detects a lessening in interest in programming among young IT applicants. “The ability to program is getting lost,” he said. “Programmers are going to be in short supply. The question is: are we going to have enough people who know how to program.”

In spite of great gains in automating IT installations, hands-on expertise is still needed. Rosen said, for instance, that the ancient COBOL software language remains in great demand although it is often viewed by younger IT people as representing a bygone era of computing. SHARE is promoting some new training and educational programs designed to improve careers of people already working in IT. Some educational programs are aimed at enticing young people to enter the field.

“People like to say that COBOL is dead,” said Rosen. “But an amazing amount of software is sitting out there in COBOL.” Other older IT solutions like OpenVMS and CICS remain vibrant, although their demise had been predicted years ago.

Rosen said the IBM mainframe sector will likely be particularly hard hit by retirements. Many IT specialists cut their eye teeth on IBM’s 360 and later mainframes with the result that many of them are ready to retire. SHARE and IBM have predicted a 20,000 person shortfall centered around the mainframe market. IBM has stepped up its attempt to train more IT people through a brace of programs.

What about the money factor?

Rosen said IT salaries are likely to remain high, although top managements may grump about salary payouts. Experienced technical IT people can make $70,000 to $80,000 a year, according to Rosen, and those with managerial experience can make $100,000.

Rosen is concerned the IT enterprise field no longer seems glamorous or exciting and he said several surveys reveal that IT managers generally don’t want their children to follow in their IT footsteps. This dampens interest in the field.

Rosen says they have it all wrong. “Sometimes they don’t get it,” he said “Working in the information technology area is still fun.”

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