This article “Age Bias in IT” is an interesting look at the challenges facing older workers in IT. Many of these challenges ring true – I believe there is an age bias in IT, whether or not it is warranted.
There’s a reason this is a bigger problem in IT than in other business functions and it has to do with what’s happening to the technology that the older workers support. We often see the impacts as part of our IT strategic planning efforts. An IT strategy usually involves some analysis of direction of the various business applications and the organization (people) supporting those applications. We are often asked to help figure out what to do with the older, “legacy” systems.
Of course there is a strong link between technology decisions and organizational decisions. Often times it is the older demographic supporting these so called “legacy” systems. Their skills are rare, which is one of the things that puts the systems at risk. Because the systems are risky, the workers are at risk. The best answer is usually to shut down these old systems, or as a second option, minimize changes and move the support to a cheaper, usually offshore, location. So those workers are impacted and if they aren’t up to date in newer technologies, they may be replaced with other (usually younger) workers who are.
To minimize their risk, older workers in IT must overcome several perceptions – this is part of what the article discusses. One perception is that they are set in their ways – less likely to take coaching or be willing to try new things. They need to take leadership in helping the organization move from an outdated legacy system on to a newer platform. Another perception is that they aren’t as talented from a technical perspective, since they didn’t grow up with technology like the young 20 somethings. So they need to make an extra effort to get retooled on the latest technologies.
I have seen huge exceptions to these general perceptions, and I’ve also seen the incredible amount of business knowledge some of these 50 and 60 somethings bring to the table. Older workers may have the maturity to have better people skills and the experience to have stronger business domain skills. If they really keep up with technology and business trends, they can be huge change agents within their organizations.