Experts who thought the Year 2000 technology problem would pull
legions of Cobol programmers out of retirement to fix the bug now say fewer
retirees than expected have been hired to handle the millennium
Since many companies are still finishing repairs, hard numbers on Y2K hiring trends have yet to be assembled. But observers say businesses haven't dipped into
the deep pool of retired code-crunchers as often as expected. In fact, both analysts and industry watchers report that overall, big
businesses have rarely strayed outside of their internal labor pools for Y2K
"We've seen many companies do much more work on this issue with internal
than [was] originally thought earlier on," said Bob Cohen, vice
communications at the Information Technology
Association of America, a trade association representing the technology
Lou Marcoccio, an analyst at Gartner
Group, said previous research that Gartner had done showed demand for
retired IT professionals across the board for Y2K work. Program
administrators and managers as well as programmers were expected to be
tapped for Y2K work.
Now, Marcoccio said organizations that "traditionally had trouble
financing and retaining IT professionals...in the government, education, and
healthcare industries" were recruiting retirees with experience in Cobol and
other technologies. The U.S. government, for instance, sent out a letter to
recent government retirees asking for voluntary help to work on Y2K issues.
However, Marcoccio said, most industries did not seek Y2K
assistance from retirees.
Just ask Larry Larsen, an older programmer who last year worked for a
consultant company that did Y2K work specifically for small businesses. The company
is now out of business and Larsen is building Web sites and working as a
consultant for senior citizens looking to get online. Y2K isn't in the picture.
"We found that small businesses weren't interested," said Larsen. "They are
either ignoring the problem or not interested in doing the Y2K work until it
happens. A lot of companies decided to just upgrade."
Larsen is now doing consultant work for a company called SeniorSurfers which goes to seniors' homes to help them
set up home computers and get online.
On the whole, the majority of corporate brass decided against expanding their IT budgets for Y2K, Marcoccio said. When IT
managers realized this, they handled their Year 2000 conversion work
internally, he said.
Another reason for not hiring outside help "was most of the expertise on
business processes and applications existed inside of the company,"
Marcoccio said the same trend toward using internal staff to fix Y2K
problems has also tempered the demand for technology consultants
specializing in Y2K. While in 1996 and 1997 many information technology
consultants and tool makers thought Y2K would bring a high demand for their
services "this never happened," said Marcoccio. "Many companies ended up
doing the work internally. In fact, we found that only 3 percent of Y2K work
was done by outside consultants."
reported, many observers, including senior citizen advocates, thought
the shortage of IT workers alone
would cause many companies to seek out the expertise and flexible
schedules of retirees. Add on the deadlines for Y2K
conversion, and many thought it was a given.
But in fact, "there hasn't been a large number of retirees coming back into
the work force," Cohen said.
Representative of the lack of interest in senior programmers is Senior Staff, a Campbell,
California-based company that was created to fill this need. The
company estimates there are approximately 200,000 retired "techies"
available to work.
"Y2K has been a disappointment," said Senior Staff's CEO William Payson. "We
have about 16,000 vintage techies--that's what we call them now--in our
Senior Staff is an information data bank, not an employment agency or
placement firm, providing contacts sorted by both specialty and skill level,
free of charge. For a modest fee, the company will provide employer
Last year, Payson was counting on small businesses to be the source of work
for his "vintage techies," because he believed smaller enterprises with
tighter budgets would look to his cheaper workforce
to do the Y2K work. That never happened.
Payson has now converted and renamed his online database service from Senior
Staff 2000 to Senior Techs, to open up more possibilities for his vintage
workers and to handle work after the year 2000.
The Year 2000 problem, also known as the millennium bug, stems from an old
programming shortcut that used only the last two digits of the year. Many
computers now must be modified, or they may mistake the year 2000 for the
year 1900 and may not be able to function at all.