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How old is OLD in IT terms?

How old is OLD in IT terms?

Posted on 14th May 2019

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old person with computerI know a talented man who works in tech and is responsible for a major venture that has won several awards. He’s been in his current role for some time, so he’s thinking about his future and the possibility of moving on, yet he knows that even should he be granted an interview, it’s unlikely anyone will want to take him on. And that’s because, despite his vast experience, technical skills and proven commitment to the white heat of technology, he’s over 55. He has seen and done a lot, but that won’t cut ice with many companies, because IT is perceived of as being a young person’s industry. It’s what all recruiters hear regularly from clients. They tend to not thank us for sending them old, by which I mean, 50+ candidates. 

One of the principal reasons for this is the start-up culture that characterises IT is, almost by definition, a world of young, thrusting and dynamic individuals.  To be fair, many of them aptly fit this description. Naturally, they are attracted to like-minded people of their own age.  When you are in your 20s, anyone over 40 seems old and 50 is positively ancient, while 60 is, well, so far over the hill it’s invisible.  What could wizened old techies possibly bring to your full-throttle start-up?  

But as time moves on, we’re going to have more and more of these older, talented people seeking to find a new role and, like their younger colleagues, learn new skills.

Well, we all know the supply coming through the educational pipeline is not enough now but looks likely to be insufficient for many years to come.  Making more use of experienced people makes sense, as does training old dogs to learn new tricks, which, contrary to the myth, they are more than capable of doing.  Why would you discourage anyone who might be able to contribute to your company’s success?  

Having set out the current position as I see it, I’d now like to consider what might be done about it.  We need to think ahead. What are we going to do for our 30-40 year olds who will want to work until they are in their mid-50s and, more likely given the lack of money to pay for everyone’s pension, many years beyond? How are work practices and environments going to change?  Will flexible working continue to be popular? What about the robots – will they take all the more basic jobs that are currently being done by recent graduates? Will there be a premium paid for experience, thinking and analysis of the work said robots do?  Will the jobs of the future be different? 

While I don’t think much will change in the short-term, I do believe that firms that take steps to retain/retrain experienced hands will benefit in the long-term.  As the 30 and 40 somethings become 40 and 50 somethings, they’ll not want to be thrown on the scrapheap (I include myself in that!).  There may well be a growing market for older people to work as contractors, being brought in as and when required, earning good money but off the payroll (IR35 consultations and changes permitting!) and thus helping keep costs down for those who employ them.  

Above all, we need to remember that not every fresh graduate is a genius and not every 50 year-old techie is a dinosaur.  We need to recognise and use all the talent that’s available, not consign quality IT professionals to the scrapheap because they are developing (more than) a few grey hairs.

Overall, as IT matures as an industry, it will be populated by a far greater diversity of people, both in terms of age and, I trust, gender.  Bear in mind that the speed of development means that even those who left university 10 years ago are now having to play catch-up by learning new stuff.  If they can, there is no reason why those in their 50s can’t do the same.

Finally, from the perspective of my own industry, I think such changes will also benefit us. Recruitment also has a problem with ageism.  As our candidates and clients age then they’ll be more comfortable partnering with those they’ve grown to know and trust – so long as we keep delivering talent for them. And if we don’t access all the talent that’s out there, of each and every age and sex, then we won’t be doing our job properly.  As I said, nothing much is likely to change in the short-term, but one thing is certain: in the future, we’ll all be older and, hopefully, wiser - and equally employable!

Gareth Biggerstaff, CEO, Be-IT  

Posted in Opinion, Recruitment News

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