Companies Can't Assume Those Over 40 Have Outdated Skills

A new study reveals that tech workers tend to be young.

By Aliah D. Wright Nov 6, 2017
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If the average worker is 42 years old, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, why is it that nearly 3 in 4 tech workers, one survey reveals, are between 20 and 40?

The answer, experts say, is discrimination—despite laws against it. The solution, some suggest, is more diversity.

But in a world where the perception is that younger IT workers are savvier—and willing to work harder for less pay—businesses can "unintentionally create an environment and culture that excludes older workers," according to job board Indeed.

The Austin, Texas-based job search engine recently surveyed 1,011 currently employed tech workers in the United States. Seventy-three percent of the respondents said that, on average, tech employees at their companies are 40 or younger.

Some 29 percent of survey respondents said the average age of employees at their company is between 31 and 35; 17 percent said it's between 20 and 30. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said the average age of employees at their company is 36 to 40 years old, making them members of the younger end of Generation X. Twenty-seven percent said the average age was over 40, making them older members of Generation X or Baby Boomers.

"In other words, close to half of [tech] employees (46 percent) are Millennials," wrote Indeed Senior Vice President of Product Raj Mukherjee on the company's blog.

While most tech workers tend to be young, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that 25 percent of workers should be 55 or older by 2019, "it's clear that these numbers don't reflect the diversity of the population when it comes to age," Mukherjee writes.

 

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Equal Employment Opportunity]

Moreover, many older tech employees worry about losing their jobs because of their age, the Indeed study stated.

About 43 percent of employees were worried they would lose their job because of their age, and nearly 18 percent worried about it constantly.

Still, some 78 percent of survey respondents said they consider those workers 40 or older "highly qualified." More than 83 percent believe older workers can impart wisdom and experience.

Experts SHRM Online interviewed said companies hiring tech employees must take proactive steps to be more inclusive of older workers, minorities and women—demographics that can often feel isolated and marginalized.

"I think to improve diversity, tech companies have to simply make an effort to counteract existing hiring practices," said Georgene Huang, CEO and co-founder of Fairygodboss, an online career community for women. "In the case of ageism, this means seeking out older tech and IT workers and not assuming they have outdated skills, which is just a stereotype and may be patently false for any individual job applicant."

Not everyone thinks that way, however.

"Diversity for diversity's sake is silly," said Cody Swann, CEO of Las Vegas-based Gunner Technology, a boutique software development agency. He also told SHRM Online in an interview that "I run a tech company and have never given a thought to diversity—and yet, more than 80 percent of my workforce are women and/or ethnic minorities," he wrote via e-mail.

Swann says he frequently hires people before meeting them in person. He hires based on qualifications—not age, sex or race.
"I give all applicants a project to tackle and, if they complete the project, I pay them for their work and extend offers to whomever completed the project the best."

He said, "a company that foolishly cuts off a large part of the workforce via discrimination will be punishing itself by missing out on top talent."

 

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