Maine's CIO prepares for impending 'silver tsunami'

About 24 percent of the state's workforce will likely retire in the next few years, Maine CIO Jim Smith said.

Faced with an oncoming “silver tsunami” — that is, a deluge of baby boomer workers reaching retirement age — Maine has been raising its defenses, state Chief Information Officer Jim Smith said.

“We’ll lose about 24 percent of our workforce,” Smith told StateScoop TV in an interview at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers midyear conference in Alexandria, Virginia. The 24 percent loss “equals thousands upon thousands of years of experience. How do you replace that? How do you ease that transition?”

One of Smith’s strategies has been to tap the brainpower at community colleges and universities for extra help on cybersecurity and agile development projects. Those institutions also can offer a pipeline of potential employees, he said.

“I think the biggest challenges [for the state] are probably around workforce, not only on the workforce leaving, but … how do you brand what you’re doing to attract younger resources to come in and say, ‘Yeah, I want to work for the state,’” Smith said. “That idea of somebody working for the state their whole lives is probably fading away a little bit.”

It’s a cultural change that Smith said he is willing to accommodate. In fact, Smith said he would consider encouraging young people to work in state service for three- to five-year terms. These short stints in government would give younger workers a “tremendous opportunity, tremendous experience they may not have in other companies,” he said.

In addition to preparing for the silver tsunami, Smith wants to focus on promoting agile development. During his tenure, Smith has encouraged his team to find smaller projects they can tackle in 40 hours or less.

“We find a lot of these sort of smaller problems that we can fix very quickly, as opposed to always doing it in a three-year project,” Smith said. “We’re moving [more] toward agile where we’re going to deliver faster, and do a lot of projects in agile.”

While excitement around agile heated up in the last year, Smith said it’s been a part of a multiyear effort.

“When we think about innovation in the IT world for the state of Maine, we’re really looking forward to … bringing a culture of agile to the workforce and moving away from the methodologies about waterfall,” Smith said

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