Consulting before retiring Featured

7:00pm EDT February 28, 2007

Retirement may look very different for baby boomers who are approaching an age at which the previous generation was already playing golf and moving into retirement communities.

According to a new survey by Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of information technology professionals on a project and full-time basis, 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. The national poll included responses from more than 1,400 CIOs from a sample of U.S. companies with 100 or more employees.

“Leaving full-time work, especially for information technology professionals, does not mean checking out of the work force entirely,” says Brandon Riley, division director of Robert Half Technology in Houston. “The bridge to retirement for these IT professionals is consulting work.”

Smart Business spoke with Riley 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.

Was this a surprising trend — that CIOs prefer easing into retirement with consulting work rather than leaving the work force altogether?

No, this was not a surprise to us. Particularly since many IT managers who are not even near retirement are doing consulting work. The fact is that this is a very good market — and a lucrative one — for being in the IT field, and that includes professionals taking on consulting work.

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

Becoming a consultant can leave room for a lot of flexibility. For example, an IT consultant can choose to work with the specific technologies he or she prefers.

This is attractive, particularly to CIOs who stepped out of technology over the years and had become more of an administrator dealing with staff management and company politics.

Consulting provides a great opportunity for these people to become more technical again — which is often what they love in the first place. They can also pick and choose the projects they find most interesting, which may also allow them time for other personal or professional interests. It can be an ideal set-up to work from a home office, set your own hours and have all the flexibility that goes along with that.

What kind of benefits can companies reap from this trend?

The IT consulting trend gives companies an opportunity to have an informal mentoring or succession planning program, passing on knowledge from the experienced, retired IT workers to those at entry level. It helps to mentor entry-level workers about the company's big picture because with heads-down, dayto-day activity, it may be difficult for junior workers to understand what their job means to the company. A more experienced consultant can help broaden that scope.

Companies are also turning to this group for help in managing legacy systems. If a company has legacy computer applications in operation, it can be beneficial to hire an experienced consultant who is familiar with these operations, such as previous ASP and VB6 applications. These were precursors to dot-net technology, which many entry-level IT professionals have experience with or are striving to get into. However, these professionals may not be familiar with older applications. Not all companies have upgraded to dot-net applications yet, which puts these companies at a disadvantage when trying to find IT workers.

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

Companies realize the value seasoned workers bring to a firm. A semi-retired IT consultant requires little or no training, understands legacy applications, and can be a mentor to other employees. There are benefits all around. In fact, many companies are offering incentives to attract these professionals, including offering 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.

BRANDON RILEY is the Houston division director for Robert Half Technology (www.rht.com), a leading provider of technology professionals for initiatives ranging from Web development and multiplatform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Reach Riley at Brandon.riley@rht.com or (713) 623-4700.