A friend sent me an article the other day. The intro says, “States’ shrinking IT workforce: The worst is yet to come: A survey by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers finds that states are facing critical shortages of IT workers, made worse by furloughs, hiring freezes and stagnant salaries. And the retirements of many older workers loom.” Of course, the big impact of this situation is on the ability of the States to support their legacy applications. The people who are retiring are not the 24-year-old Java or .NET developers, they are the 58-year-old COBOL programmers.

You can read the article here: http://gcn.com/articles/2011/01/27/states-it-worker-shortage.aspx

Unlike the “Year 2000” or Y2K crisis, the date for hitting the wall is not always clear. Right now, the 50-and-up age group is the only one where employment is actually increasing. Why? Well, too many people are discovering that with disappearing home equity and the decrease in other investments, they can’t afford to retire any more. But, if the economy ever does truly pick up, or if they just get tired, you can bet those older workers will leave in a heartbeat.

For the States, this situation is very serious, but not urgent. Nobody is running around like Chicken Little… yet. But, the only way out of this situation that keeps the systems running and the services delivered safely and reliably is to modernize those older applications. We can typically redo a system in a year, but others take longer (perhaps 2 years, perhaps 3). If you look at a 3-year window, and you don’t start until your staff actually retires, the results will be painful and embarrassing.

It’s time to get moving. The people who went through the Year 2000 crisis with comfort started in 1997 or earlier. Don’t let the aging workforce catch you by surprise!