Opinion

Agents are to blame for ageism

Jacqueline Straffon, a contract IT resource manager, gives an inside view on ageism in the IT industry

After 20 years resourcing IT projects and recruiting staff both in-house and on behalf of clients, I believe a culture of ageism has crept into our world. But, is it a problem that has been highlighted now because the IT industry is older than before?

In general, hiring managers - the people responsible for actually getting the projects resourced and delivered - are rarely ageist. Most senior professionals have a strong development background and realise the benefits of an experienced staff member. Indeed, for many roles based in the City, it is impossible for a majority of the experience to be attained by someone under the age of 40, and presenting at board level needs years of experience.

However, there is a problem with human resources staff and agents sometimes judging candidates on their age, without having a proper understanding of the person's experience. I have been told many times that someone does not fit the requirement because they are over 40, despite the fact that the hiring managers have made no such judgement. Agents and HR are the first port of call, so they have to improve their interpretation of skills.

There is a perception that graduates are cheaper as they don't need training in Java-based technologies etc.

That is rubbish!

There are too many IT "specialists" out there with two to four years' experience who know little else than Java and related languages. They lack client-facing skills, analysis skills, documentation and quality assurance procedures, team skills and are often resistant to learning new techniques. They are often highly overpaid for a very limited skill set, just because their knowledge fits an area where there is a shortage.

Mature techies love the challenge of learning new things. Indeed, they gained all of their experience to date by applying themselves to learning new skills on the job. Give them a chance to work on the new stuff, and they will pick it up quickly. They are also less likely to take off to the next highest payer.

I am tired of reading in the press that older developers with legacy skills cannot learn new object orientated (OO) techniques. I often feel that such statements are made by people who do not understand the differences and have no knowledge of software development.

The skills required to be a good developer are intelligence, creativity, analysis and strong communications skills. If you are a good developer, you can pick up anything. I have worked with both legacy systems and OO for many years. In my experience, mature developers move to new technologies seamlessly. The disciplines required are the same. On the other hand, developers who know only PC-based development are often woefully inadequate at applying themselves to learning about anything else. By excluding people because of their age, companies are shooting themselves in the foot.

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This was first published in November 2000

 

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