While it didn’t get the same kind of press as Y2K and it doesn’t grab headlines like hacker attacks on Internet businesses, the shortage of IT workers is one of the greatest challenges facing high-tech companies.

Companies are doing everything they can—offering stock options, signing bonuses, and a passel of perks—to get workers to come and stay a few years. Despite their efforts, at the end of the day, staffing remains an issue.

However, some companies are finding that retirees, with maturity, years of experience, and a broad sense of both technology and business, are becoming an excellent option.

As a CIO, you should consider how the workforce is changing and what several job-placement firms are saying about the contributions that retirees can make to your business. Such a consideration could save you much angst over staffing troubles.

Aging workers, changing expectations
Barbara Hawkins, an associate professor at IndianaUniversity , is coordinating a worldwide study on aging and how the “longevity revolution” is changing society. She said businesses must broaden their opportunities for older workers.

“How do we reframe our economy to match the constellation of workers that we see emerging?” Hawkins said. “Sooner or later, it will become a trend.”

Layoffs into payoffs
Mike Barr, a principal in a New Jersey-based consulting firm, hires retired chemists, architects, and engineers as independent consultants. They are paid to work with insurance adjusters to inspect damage done to a business’s computer architecture as a result of natural disasters, vandalism, or lightning strikes.

“We’ll send in an electrical engineer, and he might have to deal with a computer and a telephone system and an alarm system,” Barr said. “The wide range of experience is very valuable. We never know what sort of equipment we’ll be dealing with.”

With no day-to-day job to tie them down, retirees, who usually have to report to a business on the same day of the company’s technological problem, are ideal. “Generally, we have to move pretty quickly,” Barr said. “If there’s a loss, we need someone on the site within the next day.”

But Barr said such workers are also willing to let the adjuster know if they’re not familiar with a piece of damaged technology. “They’ll admit it, and they will get some help,” he said.

Barr’s company actually got its start after an older, ex-IBM vice president was laid off from his job and joined Barr in starting the business. Though it’s common for companies to lay off or offer early retirement to older employees, he believes the practice is shortsighted.

“It’s just stupid,” Barr said. “We picked up a lot of people from IBM.”

Bob Baker, owner of Washington D.C.-based ABBTECH, a staffing services company, agrees.

“The Wall Street and Harvard Business School analogies are that older employees cost more money,” Baker said. “My feeling is that one older employee is worth two younger employees.”

More retirees in IT
In some cases, companies work with their own retirees, bringing them back to work on a contract basis. Wiley Farler, vice president of sales for A.C. Coy, said that such an arrangement is attractive to employers, because it doesn’t change the worker’s pension status, and employees.

“They can hire them back on a contract basis [for] up to 1,000 hours,” said Farler, whose Pittsburgh-based company recruits and places Information Systems and engineering professionals. “Once it gets past 1,000 hours, the company has to renegotiate their pension settlement with that individual.”

Tom Richfield, board chairman of IT CareerNet, an IT recruiter, said that many retirees have remained current with emerging technology, keeping their skills up-to-date. He contends that there are plenty of companies that could use retirees, for example, as contract workers on projects.

“Technology is kind of a passion to people,” Richfield said. “There are lots of consulting jobs available for people to work part-time. The way the whole technology economy is going will drive this workforce requirement as we go further into the next five years.”
Have you hired retirees to help you with a particular project? What are some qualities that retirees bring to the workplace? Do you see this as a growing trend? Post a comment below or send us an e-mail .