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Should Workplaces Be Re-Defined To Retain Older Tech Workers? (wired.com) 312

rgh02 submitted this article from Backchannel which argues companies "need to work harder and more persistently to attract, retain, and recognize talent" -- especially older talent: We "elders" know perfectly well that our workplaces are by and large not about us. We don't drive how roles, functions, advancement, and success are seen. Career development options and the hierarchical career ladders everyone is expected to climb are designed for the majority: younger workers. What can be done? There has to be a systems overhaul...
The article suggests restructuring workplaces with "individual contributor tracks" which reward people who don't go on to become managers, as well as things like paid mentoring positions and "phased retirement" programs that create part-time positions to allow a more gradual transition into retirement.
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Should Workplaces Be Re-Defined To Retain Older Tech Workers?

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  • by bfwebster ( 90513 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @11:45AM (#54998857) Homepage

    As noted, the problem with most organizations is that there is no technical advancement track. I actually proposed back in the late 90s at one organization that we establish a full technical track that went from entry-level coder all the way up to CTO (with a layer of 'senior technical officers' below the CTO level).

    Other organizations -- such as Bell Labs in its heyday -- simply had everyone as 'Member of Technical Staff', with ad hoc organization around research and technical projects.

    Sadly, though, most organizations do, in fact, force technical people to become managers to advance, regardless of whether they want to or are suited for it. It's one of the reasons IT remains so dysfunctional throughout most organizations.

    • IT is not unique (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Bruce66423 ( 1678196 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @12:09PM (#54998965)

      There are many professions that make little provision for people who don't want to become 'managers'. The classic examples are police, nurses and social workers; if you want to carry on engaging with people, you can't accept promotion. In IT being a contractor often offers the opportunity to stay coding - though at the cost of long term stability in employment. Large organisations may have the space and sense to recognise that the geek over there knows stuff that they need to have on tap, but sadly the temptation is to assume that modern technology renders the knowledge obsolete; outsourcing is an experiment based on this hypothesis...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This is why I overwhelmingly prefer to work for companies whose reason for existence is the development of software or hardware. If you work for a bank, there's exactly one track for advancement: management. If you work for a company like Google or AMD, you can advance as a non-management subject-matter expert.

      The HARD part about being a SME is REMAINING a SME. N
      Seven years ago, I was a fairly experienced Android developer, but ended up taking a side-trip into ethical hacking for a couple of years. Eventual

      • This, a thousand times this. In the current software world, it is basically a cardinal sin to actually spend time developing and deploying a product using a specific technology. Because by the time you come up for air after actually accomplishing something, the landscape is completely changed, and now you're behind the curve again. God forbid you actually spend enough time on a product to maintain it. It's freakin' ridiculous.

        I'm continually wondering when this unsustainable situation finally stops bei

    • Bell Labs also had Distinguished Member of Technical Staff.
    • This idea works to a point. The reality is, however, that no matter how good an individual contributor is, he can only increase the value of his own contribution to the company by a low multiple. In my experience, a really great programmer might produce 3x or 5x more than a less skilled one, but despite the literature, probably not 10x.

      By contrast, an effective manager can make the difference between total failure or brilliant success for an entire team, or group of teams. The potential value to the company

  • Agree in some part (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sunking2 ( 521698 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @11:48AM (#54998871)
    Most of this is garbage, however the phased retirement is something I've always believed in. I work in at an engineering space orientated firm that has been doing this since pre Apollo days. More often then not people work until the day they retire and 6 months later are back as contractors because they don't know how to do the transition to non working and more importantly the transfer of knowledge didn't happen because nobody wants to pay to have it done. A slower transition both lets people start to enjoy a bit of retirement earlier while they are a year or two younger and allows companies to see where the knowledge is actually lost and adjust.

    the problem with is is your hours worked doesn't really show your salary. It becomes a mess from an insurance and overall compensation perspective to institute such a thing. Things that are hard for HR and financial planny typically don't happen. They don't like things that are hard.
    • and productivity increases (did you know that if minimum wage kept pace with productivity it'd be $23/hr) why don't we all just work less hours? I seem to remember hearing I'd work less than my parents. I'm working more, and my kids are on track to work more than me. Yeah, I got a bloody smart phone ($225 LG) and that's nice and all, but I also don't drink and smoke (and neither do my kids) which more than makes up for that expense.

      Is it just me or are these just new fangled ways to get me to work harde
  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @11:53AM (#54998905)
    When Social Security was created in the 1930's, there was 19 workers for every retiree. In 2030, there will be two workers per every retiree. It's going to get really hard to find enough under 30 people to support an aging society. The IT industry alone will have a 1.5M+ shortage of skilled workers as older workers retire and foreign workers go home.
    • When Social Security was created in the 1930's, there was 19 workers for every retiree. In 2030, there will be two workers per every retiree.

      That's why the USA needs more, not less immigrants. And if they have to be illegal initially, so be it.

      • Why does no one else see this?

        Personally, I think we should not condone "illegal immigration" because it sweep the issue under the rug, and enables abuse of people designated illegal immigrants.

        We should let everyone in that is not a criminal, and change the laws to make that not be a problem. For example, you can't vote until you are cash flow positive. (Most immigrants would immediately be voters...)

      • That's why the USA needs more, not less immigrants. And if they have to be illegal initially, so be it.

        And best of all, they can't complain to the government about wage/hour law or working conditions!

    • Adjusted for inflation, GDP and productivity growth is up just under 1000% from 1930 to 2007.

      We are down to about 2% the number of farmers and they are struggling financially because their productivity is too high (ironically, President Trump killing the TPP is doing huge damage to farmers who suddenly have no place to sell their excess product).

      With trends in automation and robotics, by 2040 we'll literally have too many people compared to jobs.

      So sure.. it took 19 workers to support 1 worker when social

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lordpidey ( 942444 )

      It's going to get really hard to find enough under 30

      Bullshit.

      What's gonna be hard is to find people under 30 without the 50 required years of experience for an entry level position.

    • When Social Security was created in the 1930's, there was 19 workers for every retiree.

      ... and the amount paid to those retirees was ZERO. SS was not available to existing retirees. Only to new retirees that had paid into the system when they were still working. Plus you had to pay in for a certain number of years before being eligible for benefits. The taxes were collected in the 1930s, but the first benefits were paid in 1940 [wikipedia.org].

      Because of these very restricted eligibility requirements, SS ran HUGE surpluses for decades. This had deleterious effects in the long run, because bad policies w

      • So how can there be a shortage of both workers and jobs?

        Look at the construction trades. Older workers are retiring and foreign workers are going home. Young people are sent directly to college without ever considering the vocational trades. There's not enough young people to replace those who are leaving in construction. Plenty of construction jobs, just not enough workers. The same thing will happen to IT when young people go into healthcare because that will be the leading industry for making money after the baby boomers retire.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        So how can there be a shortage of both workers and jobs?

        There is a shortage of workers to pay taxes. There is a shortage of jobs to employ workers to pay taxes.

        It's from society/the government's point of view, not the corporations.

    • Wrong problem (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @01:35PM (#54999363)
      with automation and productivity improvements it's going to get hard to find enough work to go around. For example, with Trump & co blocking farm immigration farmers are finally implementing the kinds of labor saving practices (like growing food at waist height so it's easier to pick) that Europe's had for 20 years.

      That IT shortage is a lie. I've got a guy at my job with a CS degree from a public University who's doing crap IT work instead of programming for a living. 20 years ago he would have been snapped up a day after graduation. But 20 years ago the H1-B program was in it's infancy.

      There's plenty of money to go around. You're being lied to so a small group of lucky assholes can take everything. Not that I know what to do about it.
      • Where exactly do you live?

        I live in Houston. My company has been trying to hire a DBA, offering a competitive salary, for months. We've made offers to candidates who told us they had two other offers and had to choose. As a lead developer, I myself had to look for a job a year ago. I had four interviews within two weeks, and was hired with a good salary and benefits within another two. Here in Houston at least, IT talent is very tight.

      • Automation isn't going to solve the labor shortage in IT. I do automation for a living. The problem is, automation is very, very expensive. It only pays to automate the most routine of tasks, or the tasks that have the most critical need for precision and accuracy.

        Even fast food restaurants are having a hard time automating away the need for high school workers. They introduce things like kiosk ordering, but there still seem to be just as many jobs for human cashiers and the like.

        Automation does improve eff

    • The IT industry alone will have a 1.5M+ shortage of skilled workers as older workers retire and foreign workers go home.

      Then maybe the IT industry shouldn't be firing older workers long before their retirement to demonstrate the shortage.

    • by plopez ( 54068 )

      That's OK. The US is a wealth engine. It shouldn't be hard to balance the world's greatest GDP with taking care of its people.

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      They are called robots, look it up. So how many robots does it take to feed people in your world, apparently none, because if the people are not workers they should simply die and as you no longer need people to be workers because the robots do all the work, than all the people can die. Now that you have no people to feed, well, all the robots can be shut down because they have nothing to do and humanity is extinct. Psychopathic capitalism solves no problems it just creates them so it can generate a profit.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 12, 2017 @11:59AM (#54998935)

    When I was working for a big consulting firm in 1999 there was a big push at the time to create multiple tracks of "advancement" specifically for the people that had no desire to be anywhere near the line of management.

    It worked to a degree, where the "Subject Matter Expert" in their field would be brought in as a tech resource - but like many initiatives it got bogged down by more and more layers of people trying to get a "piece of the pie" and hang on to the billable hours. The loudest people and the ones closest to where the money flows will always be more successful.

    The only way us "old farts" can compete is be just as nimble as the younger people and adapt to the game. Anyone who says we can't learn a new language, a new tech or whatever passes as "employably hot" never met one of us who are more than happy to come in and do what needs to be done - and we have the knowledge to Make Shit Happen. I don't need "corporate love" to keep me trained. I am a fucking geek all the way - and when I'm not writing medical interface code, I'm building/flying/racing drones, building robots, taking a plasma torch to metal sheets and building dragons for yard art, to messing with all flavors of IoT boards just for shits and giggles. It's all about attitude and a willingness to learn on your own. If there is a new language or tech I need to know to stay marketable? Then I do it. I don't wait for some employer to train me because sure as fuck if they get a client that has a need? They're not going to pay me to try and learn it - they'll hire someone else with that skill.

    Just be adaptable and open to change and you'll always have people wanting to work with you and hire you to do tasks that need to be done. The only thing that is permanent in life is change - and the sooner everyone embraces that instead of whining about it the better off we'll be.

    Is ageism a thing? Sure. But know your shit and be willing to eat the occasional effluvia from some corporate suit turd-hammer? You'll always make it work.

    I don't bitch. I laugh about it - all the way to the bank.

  • Why do we need to redefine systems? Treat people as individuals instead of parts of a defined system. Keep the systems loose and flexible.

    That's one advantage startups have over established companies: roles can change to accommodate the capabilities of individuals and the changing needs of the company.

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @12:40PM (#54999115)

    unlink health care from jobs.

    That can free up people who are just there for the health care

  • If you're a Boomer, it's your fault you can't afford to retire. People my age have enough trouble getting jobs without you keeping them into your 70s. Go sit on an ice floe.
  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @12:51PM (#54999173)

    I'm 42, so I think I officially qualify as old. Yet, here I am still doing senior-level engineering work. I'm not a DevOps ninja (yet...) and don't code 16 hours a day, but I really enjoy my job. I'm hoping for the day that more employers will see that older workers who are still contributing aren't a drag on the company they work for -- they're the adults that are needed to redirect some of the "bright ideas" and temper them with reality and experience. Unfortunately, we're a society that worships Silicon Valley wunderkinds and 24-year-old CEOs, and even boring old school companies are trying to behave like web startups. So here's my suggestions -- companies shouldn't try too hard; if they do even some of these things they will retain talented older workers:

    • Like the article says, have a technical track people can move along. Before my company implemented an "official" parallel career track for skilled technical people, lots of older people were "promoted" into management. It was the only place to go if you wanted to continue up the career ladder. This works great in traditional paper-shuffling corporate work, but IT, science, R&D, etc. is work that people actually don't mind doing and some of us would rather continue doing so. Traditional corporate jobs tend to promote people out of work, and most people are happy for this because who wants to shuffle paper? But, technical work and managerial work are _not_ related, not even close. The alternative for promotion on the technical track (at least for me) is being trusted with greater responsibility and helping with developing our junior staff. This (IMO) is a much better use of my skills than a management job would be.
    • Understand that older workers can't live at work. It's not a sign of disloyalty or laziness to put in a reasonable amount of hours. Most older workers don't want to continue their college dorm days and live at an office with their co-workers. The way I manage it (with a huge volume of work) is to stay reasonably productive during the actual workday so I don't have to spend 13 hours a day at the office. Many older workers have kids and families, but it's also not the 1950s anymore where the husband was the sole breadwinner and would do anything the company told them to keep their job.
    • Be flexible! This is one that gets major flak from the vocally child-free crowd and the younger set who have fewer out-of-work responsibilities. I have 2 kids, and the shorter work commute between my wife and I, so I do a lot of school activity appearances and other things during the day. But, I also regularly do the odd task for an hour or two after the house goes to bed. The company I work for gets plenty of work out of me; it's just not all in contiguous blocks.
    • Lay off the preschool workplace furniture a little bit. Most older workers can be trusted with a little personal space. Most of us also don't want to attend meetings sitting on orange and blue beanbag chairs against a bright white wall. Have a mix of traditional office space and Millenial preschool office space -- our company does because we tend to skew older. Not everyone is happy with open plan offices and for some people (like me) they can be productivity killers.
    • Appoint older workers as informal trainers. This is part of my job, and I'm actually someone who enjoys doing it. If you can convince your older workers that there aren't a bunch of MBAs waiting to lay them off as soon as the younglings' training is complete, this is a great way to pass on institutional knowledge. For this to work though, you have to provide...
    • Job security. I'm not talking union-level or tenure-level "we can't fire you for any reason", I'm just talking about dialing back the outsourcing/offshoring/layoff drama a little bit. I would (and have!) taken a lower salary to work somewhere that is more stable than your average web startup. Older workers with families want an income they can count on. Part of that is up to us (by keeping our skills relevant and giving good value-for-money) but companies need to stop holding the "we can get someone in India to do your job for $10 an hour" card over workers' heads.
    • Force us to keep fresh. I'm under no illusion that older workers can settle into a routine, learn very little new stuff, and end up doing the same thing for 20 years...then get tossed out in one of the MBA-led purges. Identify the people who are up for learning new things, and give them the time and projects to gain different experience with.

    Above all else, don't actively try to recruit older workers. It won't work. My company is trying to recruit Millenials, and it's absolute comedy gold to see how out of touch their efforts are. Just do some of these things, and you'll get experienced workers beating down your door.

  • that young people really have no clue about. Youth doesn't last that long. Enjoy it, because you're on the same train everyone else is.

  • In major projects engineering entry level tasks have become automated (much work actually is off-shored now as well) to the point where the old, expensive guys are laid off and the younger people (who are more familiar with the sophisticated software) are running the great big machines which prevent them from making mistakes. There is very little mentoring left in this field.
  • by Hasaf ( 3744357 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @03:56PM (#54999887)

    I looked around and realized that there were no older workers in my position. There are always ways to push people out the door, and they were being used. I even looked at other companies and saw the same.

    I decided to get my teachers license (I already had a Masters; so it was a pretty easy process). Yes, I have to deal with middle school kids; but I look at my friends who tried to stick it out and they are doing things like delivering pizzas.

  • by Snufu ( 1049644 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @04:59PM (#55000161)

    These people chose to be old. Nobody forced them. Hold people responsible for their decisions.

    Damn nanny state.

  • by MpVpRb ( 1423381 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @07:37PM (#55000867)

    Older workers aren't obsolete, they're just more expensive

    Managers need to re-calibrate their measurements

    Young managers who fail to do this, or who care more about culture than results, are missing out on a vast talent pool

    • by zifn4b ( 1040588 ) on Sunday August 13, 2017 @06:15AM (#55002301)

      Older workers aren't obsolete, they're just more expensive

      Managers need to re-calibrate their measurements

      Young managers who fail to do this, or who care more about culture than results, are missing out on a vast talent pool

      You get what you pay for. I've seen quite a few companies go under with software platforms written almost exclusively by recent college grads and H1B visas. As soon as they put any real load on the system, it buckles. When this situation occurs, the people who created the problem due to incompetence and inexperience just jump ship and go do it all over again somewhere else.

  • by whitroth ( 9367 ) <whitrothNO@SPAM5-cent.us> on Monday August 14, 2017 @11:31AM (#55008987) Homepage

    I've been in my current job for twice as long as any other job I've had in my life. However, when I was interviewing, one of the things I always said was, "if you have a tech track and a management track, I'm on the tech track."

    Not everyone should, or wants to be a manager. There are far toom many people who REALLY, REALLY SHOULD NOT BE A MANAGER. On the other hand, those folks may be really good at what they do.

    Do you *really* want the manager who really knows the systems in an "emergency" meeting that runs on for hours, while a new hire who doesn't have anywhere near the experience as the manager, never mind they don't know the systems deeply yet, try to deal with the disaster?

    If you think it should work that way, congratulations, here's your MBA, now get out there and destroy your company, too.

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