Consulting before retirement Featured

7:00pm EDT February 28, 2007

Anew survey shows that the move from full-time work to full-time retirement will be a gradual one for many technology executives. Nearly half (46 percent) of chief information officers (CIOs) say they are likely to consider consulting or project work as a way to transition to retirement. This national poll includes responses from more than 1,400 CIOs from a sample of U.S. companies with 100 or more employees and was developed by Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of information technology professionals on a project and full-time basis.

“Retirement for baby boomer IT professionals does not mean leaving the work force entirely,” says Heidi Higgins, branch manager for Robert Half Technology in Columbus. “The bridge to retirement for these IT professionals is consulting work.”

Smart Business spoke with Higgins about the implications of the impeding legions of baby boomers moving out of full-time work, and what the consulting trend means for both workers and employers.

Is it surprising that CIOs prefer easing into retirement with consulting work rather than leaving the work force altogether?

Not at all. According to labor statistics, up to 64 million baby boomers, or more than 40 percent of the U.S. labor force, will be preparing to retire by the end of the decade. (The oldest baby boomers are now turning 60 years old).

Based on these numbers, it makes sense that as our average life expectancy increases, executives will want to be engaged in fulfilling projects — more so than in generations past.

Why would CIOs, or executives in general, be interested in consulting work?

Consulting work gives these IT professionals the flexibility to work on the technology projects they find most interesting, with fewer responsibilities, such as staff management and the politics often associated with it. The part-time work allows time to pursue other personal/professional interests that these busy executives may have put off during their intense working years because of time pressures.

Working as a consultant also allows people to continue to feel productive and give back to a field in which they have a lot of experience. It allows them to play the critical role of mentoring the next generation of IT professionals.

And I want to mention that it does provide a significant supplemental income, even working part-time.

What kind of benefits can companies reap from this trend?

One benefit is the tremendous assistance these partially-retired consultants can offer to a company to mentor the next generation of IT workers. This group requires less training and hand-holding when stepping into a company for the first time.

Companies are also turning to this group for help in managing legacy systems — that is, older applications such as ASP and VB6 applications that were precursors to dot-net technology. However, not all companies have the newer technology and not all entry-level IT workers know the older applications. So these semi-retired IT consultants are a perfect fit for these companies.

Are companies receptive to hiring retired workers or those nearing retirement?

Yes, because there are tangible benefits to hiring seasoned IT workers to a firm such as those mentioned. In fact, many companies are now offering incentives to attract these professionals — and offering perks that are advantageous to these workers, such as flexible work arrangements, telecommuting and work/life balance programs.

How can companies find qualified retired IT workers for consulting?

They can look inside their own company for CIOs or IT directors who are approaching retirement age and suggest doing consulting work with the company upon retirement. Another option is to contact a staffing company that specializes in placing high-quality, experienced IT consultants.

HEIDI HIGGINS is the branch manager for Robert Half International in Columbus (www.rhi.com), a leading provider of technology professionals for initiatives ranging from web development and multiplatform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Reach her at (614) 854-0020 or heidi.higgins@rhi.com.