Just now, I ran an errand and had a few minutes to listen to National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation". It was a discussion about how to "recession-proof" your job and life. Good advice...reduce debt, physically remove credit cards from your wallet, and so on. Then, the topic turned to layoffs. Citing the tendency to offer older workers early retirement, the guest (Stephen Viscusi) recommended, "Take that package and run! Pursue other interests, start a small business, re-enter the workforce in a recession-proof career (like nursing)."
Take the package and run. The 56-year-old mainframe programmer runs. The 52-year-old business analyst bolts. Program managers evaporate. They become consultants and resell their services at 5 times the FTE rate. They move to Park City and set up a snowboard shop. Or maybe not.
Offering packages may be an attractive way to reduce the "two-legged" expense (see Jack's earlier post). Although it may be inevitable, consider what walks out the door with them. In most business cases for legacy modernization, for example, one of the primary pro-modernization arguments is the risk of skill attrition: older workers with system knowledge are getting fewer each year. Early retirement packages accelerate attrition.
This masks a more intransigent problem, however. The real risk is the lack of documented legacy system knowledge that is decoupled from individuals. In addition, some organizations with very old legacy systems are missing source code...you know who you are. The challenge facing IT shops is to effectively transfer knowledge from older workers before that opportunity disappears. Unless this happens on a large scale in the immediate future, there will be millions of lines of "orphan" code in our core systems within a few years. Despite the potential for accelerated attrition due to layoffs, the statistic still looms: 50% of today's workers will be gone in 10 years.That person that you rely on to "know where to go" in the code to fix problems will be driving down I-75 to Tampa wearing a straw hat. "CICS? What's that ?"
What can you do?
- Take advantage of advances in Social Software to create forums for knowledge sharing
- Collaboratively model critical pieces of the infrastructure and functions of software
- Involve older workers in strategy and design sessions, don't just plan to do SOA and tell them later, for example
If you have other ideas, please comment here and share!