Fifty-plus IT pros often opt for self employment

More and more 50-plus IT professionals are falling to the budget axe, according to Robert Black.

Black, president of CIPS Toronto and an associate partner with GSI International Consulting, said the older workers get the higher they climb on the salary ladder.

“When I was responsible for a team, I had a fixed budget for salaries, so if you have to let someone go often it’s easier to keep the graduate with the new skills and a lower salary, then [it is to send] someone on a course,” Black explained.

But he added that is a short term strategy. “If you look at young start-ups, their projects are falling off the rail because they do not have anyone experienced, who has done it 10 times already,” he said.

Black noted some 50-plus professionals resign because they feel overlooked, or get “plateaued very quickly.”

He stressed that life experience builds useful soft skills.

“I will know how to fit into a team faster, I will know the specs faster, but is the company willing to pay for that value?” he asked. “The hidden value assets that experience brings aren’t always noted.”

To counter this reality many people are working for themselves, setting up consultancies or pursuing other careers, according to Black.

“A lot of CIPS members are interested in ‘How to start your own business’ courses,” Black said. “Between one fifth and one third of CIPS Toronto members are on their own.”

However, he noted not all techies make good independent business owners.

Barry Jackowich, partner at Deloitte Consulting, stated several of his peers have joined with colleagues in similar situations to start up new consultancies, thus playing off each others skills.

However, Jackowich said the situations that lead to this entrepreneurial thrust are not generally the result of out with the old, in with the new.

The Vancouverite spoke of a desire to face new challenges, and try different things. He also noted that some people have gone as far up the ladder as they’re going to go and decide the next rung would be self-employment.

“At 35 you’re still very aggressively managing your career around goals and advancement, although at the same time you’re trying to manage that around your family,” Jackowich said. “At 55 typically you’re at a different stage with spouses and kids. I think most people have to have life goals and professional goals. As you get to later stages in your work life, you start to think differently about what motivates you.”

He added that at 35 you have mortgage payments and at 55 you are working on mentoring and succession planning.

He stressed the most important career management technique is to keep skills current. “That applies to the 30-year-old, as much as it does the 50-year-old,” he said. “You can have a 35-year-old who has become complacent with the technology they’re using who will be more of a problem than the 60-year-old who is current and has made a point of staying current.”

He also pointed to the coming retirement of several early baby boomers, which will likely create a major labour shortage, especially in highly-skilled areas.

“The hardest thing for our clients to find is the grey hair and the experience to work with or to train, to complement, and nurture those people who bring more current or academic skills,” Jackowich said.

He noted the one thing that could hold back the 50-plus IT professional was the increasing physical pace of the industry.

“I don’t see many people slowing, though. Maybe there’s a stimulant from this profession,” he said, noting today’s 50 and 60-year-olds are a far healthier group than in the past.

Jackowich also stated that this age bracket may be a less encumbered group of professionals, as they are not trying to start and raise families and have done the travelling they wanted to do.

He also don’t think IT professionals typically abandon their careers at 55. “That energy doesn’t disappear,” he said.

Both Jackowich and Black recommended professional associations as great places for networking and sharing thoughts on career management. Black noted that several organizations will also help professionals in their continued learning and training.