HR Can Help Prevent Older Workers from Becoming 'Tech Dinosaurs'

This is the second in a series of articles about innovative training and education methods

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek September 29, 2016
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HR Can Help Prevent Older Workers from Becoming Tech Dinosaurs

A desire to learn new skills is the most important attribute for succeeding in today's workplace, according to a survey of more than 2,200 CEOs in more than 20 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas.

"Successful people never stop learning," said Bill Driscoll, a district president for Accountemps, in a news release. Continuous learning is especially important in today's workplace where change is constant. The Menlo Park, Calif.-based staffing firm commissioned the survey and released the results in July.

"The world is changing quickly and constantly, and it's vital to stay informed of the latest trends and sought-after skills in your industry," he said. "If you can do multiple things and learn multiple things, then you can have a lot of different options, career-wise, and be that much more valuable to the company."

For older workers who may be seen as resistant or unable to adapt to technological change—Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg famously told a Stanford University audience that "younger people are just smarter"—a continual updating of skills is key to remaining relevant in the workplace and not being seen as technology dinosaurs.

Tech, Social Media Training

Staying on top of, and adapting to new technology as it emerges, is critical to standing out among other employees and improving one's overall business efficiency. This is where HR can help older workers from being viewed as technology dinosaurs.

"We get so focused on hiring and attracting new talent ... [but] we can re-recruit our own people" and help them keep their skills fresh, Driscoll said.

Have career-path discussions with employees of all tenures and offer varied training opportunities, like online training and mentorships. Mentoring can be formal or more casual, such as the arrangement described in a recent New York Times article. An assignment editor there—a woman in her mid-50s—highlighted the benefits she gained from a 27-year-old colleague teaching her how to use Snapchat as a reporting tool.

Employers need to keep in mind that, while older employees may not have grown up with new technologies like their younger and so-called digital native colleagues, they are not necessarily unschooled in technology use.

A recent Dropbox survey of more than 4,000 IT workers around the world found that workers ages 55 and older and those ages 18-34 used nearly the same number of forms of technology a week—5 and 4.67, respectively, Fortune reported.

"Although younger workers see their older co-workers as slower to adopt new technologies, our data shows that adoption levels are quite even across age ranges," wrote Rob Baesman, head of product at Dropbox, in a blog post. "Older workers are just as likely to use as much technology as their younger peers. Younger workers are also more stressed out, anxious and frustrated by it than their older peers."

"There are people who are experts [in technology use] who are in the Boomer or Gen Y category. You have to be careful" about stereotyping, said Niki Theophilus, executive vice president and chief human resources officer for West Corporation in the greater Omaha, Neb., area.

Still, some generational differences exist when it comes to using newer forms of communication.

A June 2013 report by CompTIA found, for example, that while e-mail usage was nearly universal among the generations, people ages 20-29 and ages 30-39 were more likely to use video calls at work than those ages 50 and older (40 percent and 39 percent versus 17 percent, respectively). People ages 20-39 also were more likely to use Facebook for work purposes (40 percent) than those ages 40-49 and ages 50 and older (26 percent and 17 percent, respectively).

Additionally, compared to Baby Boomer employees, members of Generation X and Y were more likely to agree to the statement that "Social media savvy is an important part of their skill set for work."

CompTIA found that technology-related training and social media education were more prevalent among 20- and 30-something workers as well as senior executives. However, tech training is important for employees of all ages.

"The best learning and development cultures are going to look at training from a lot of different angles—shifting somebody to a project where [he or she is] is going to gain skills they didn't have before," Theophilus said.

She advocates having an individual development plan for all stages of an employee's career cycle.

"Individual managers play a really big role because they can suggest [training] and put learning programs or coaching or mentoring on individual development plans," Theophilus said.

"It is about job performance and relevancy and productivity. ... If you're approaching it from that angle, employees see it as the company being supportive and not forcing them into something."

Noted Accountemps' Driscoll, "Folks that adapt and are motivated to learn new skills ... are going to have the best opportunity to succeed." 

See part one of series: Samsung Mini-Internship Introduces Students to Industry Leaders

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