Recruit young IT professionals

January 1, 2009

Your retiring employees are taking their knowledge and experience with them. Transition them out while ramping up a new work force.

As chief information officer for the Regence Group with plans located in Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington, Cheron Vail has experienced the knowledge gaps left behind by retiring IT employees. She recruits the firm's next generation of information technology staff and manages long-term retention strategies.

Vail expects that between 60 and 90 people-about 10% to 15% of her existing IT staff-will retire over the next five years.

Vail explains that the company is constantly recruiting in certain key competencies, including systems engineering, data architecture, data management and system analysis. Besides the area universities, the Regence Group is looking beyond the Northwest for future IT employees.

"We have found over the last couple of years that as we backfill existing competencies and bring new competencies in house, we have to cast a wider net," she says. "For example, we will recruit a lead Java developer from some other part of the country if that person has the right skills, whereas two or three years ago, we would not have looked outside our own geography for candidates."

Publicly-traded Computer Sciences Corp., an IT staffing firm headquartered in Falls Church, Va., last year collaborated with Madison, Wis.-based firm, Next Generation Consulting Inc. to examine brain drain in health IT departments. That shortage has been magnified by the difficulty of recruiting and retaining younger staff fast enough to fill both vacant and newly created positions.

"The Multi-Generational Healthcare IT Workforce" report, published in September 2008, includes data from CIOs and other senior IT managers from 10 healthcare organizations located around the United States, including two large group practices and seven integrated health delivery networks.

According to the paper, an exodus of retiring traditionalists and boomers is a serious threat to IT departments because the older workers often selected, implemented and managed the systems that are in place. Their experience is difficult to replace.

The report identified four segments of workers that might be found in a health IT department at any given time: traditionalists born before 1946; baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964; Gen X born between 1965 and 1980; and Gen Y born between 1980 and 2000.

The older generations make up a large proportion-as much as 50% at some sites-of the health IT work force. Unless their departure is transitioned or otherwise controlled, their retirement threatens to leave critical gaps in staffs that are responsible for existing IT systems.

YOUNG ALLIES

As more of Vail's experienced IT employees retire, the need to attract and retain talented replacements has increased. More candidates looking to design and manage IT systems are arriving from the college ranks. The Regence Group has expected its younger workers to press for more work benefits such as telecommuting and flexible work hours as part of signing on. Vail says that the organization is looking at accommodating future generations as well.

"We are pushing ourselves to adopt a more collaborative work environment along with the necessary tools to allow for it," Vail continues. "The younger generation is our ally for keeping this effort moving."

According to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Labor and Statistics, the demand for jobs in medical records and health IT is projected to increase by 18% through 2016. According to the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS), there are about 108,000 health IT professionals in the United States now.

Bonnie Siegel is a vice president who focuses on health IT at Cejka Search Inc., a healthcare executive and physician search firm in St. Louis.

She says with more traditionalists and boomers reaching retirement age, keeping workforce rolls filled with IT replacements is fundamental to an organization's success.