Published

1

Feb

2008

Report

Managing the Multi-Generational IT Workforce

Preventing IT Brain Drain, Attracting the Next Generation of IT Workers and Harnessing Generational Diversity

Just as the importance of IT to business performance and competitive differentiation is again being acknowledged in the CEO suite, IT organizations find themselves with a talent pipeline problem. On the outflow side, they are about to be hit by a brain drain of experienced managers and workers who are nearing retirement. Their valuable IT and business knowledge is in danger of leaving with them if steps are not taken to capture and transfer it.

Managing the Multi-Generational IT Workforce

Figure 1 – Generational change in the IT workforce is creating important new opportunities and challenges for IT organizations

Figure 1 – Generational change in the IT workforce is creating important new opportunities and challenges for IT organizations

Just as the importance of IT to business performance and competitive differentiation is again being acknowledged in the CEO suite, IT organizations find themselves with a talent pipeline problem. On the outflow side, they are about to be hit by a brain drain of experienced managers and workers who are nearing retirement. Their valuable IT and business knowledge is in danger of leaving with them if steps are not taken to capture and transfer it.

On the incoming end of the talent pipeline, many IT organizations are struggling to find and attract younger workers with the right skills mix. Not enough have training in traditional technical disciplines and too few possess requisite business knowledge and relevant interpersonal skills. At the same time, the demand for such individuals is high – not only must the IT department compete with other industries, consulting companies and IT suppliers for top talent; it must also vie with other parts of its own organization for high-calibre people.

And when younger workers are recruited, there can be a generational disconnect between them and their more seasoned colleagues. While many IT departments are dominated by senior staff, some have workers from four different generations. Not surprisingly, IT workers of different generations display some very diverse characteristics, attitudes and preferences, as Figures 1 and 2 show. Their working styles are different and each presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities to IT leaders. The challenge for leaders is to leverage the various positive characteristics of different generations of workers and to minimize the negative attributes of each group.

Figure 2 – Each generation brings a unique IT perspective and experience

Figure 2 – Each generation brings a unique IT perspective and experience

One key dimension of the risk of knowledge loss in IT is the change associated with different generations of technology, and how this has impacted the disciplines and knowledge associated with different IT jobs. For example, one distinct technology generation present in many IT organizations consists of well-seasoned IT workers who cut their teeth on mainframe technologies and the traditional IT management processes and disciplines associated with them. Younger IT workers on the other hand, particularly those entering the organization since the Internet era, represent a completely different set of experiences and IT management disciplines. The new generation is used to more robust products, understands less about their inner workings, and has generally not been exposed to formal IT management processes and disciplines. As a result, many IT organizations face the challenge of adopting new technology and methods while keeping old business rules and some IT disciplines.

Overall, the main opportunity and challenge is to evolve the talent mix of the IT department to reflect its changing role in the business – one that plays a more direct role in enabling business performance and innovation, and which manages a complex mix of global internal and external resources. This requires new strategies and practices that will enable IT organizations to preserve and build on existing critical knowledge and skills while injecting fresh thinking and new ways of working. To succeed, IT organizations will need to deftly balance the talents and needs of different generations of IT workers.


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