Are IT professionals past it at 40?

IT professionals as young as 40 have been victims of age discrimination, according to research by the Third Age Foundation, a...

IT professionals as young as 40 have been victims of age discrimination, according to research by the Third Age Foundation, a voluntary organisation that helps the over-40s find employment, writes Nathalie Towner.

The Past it at 40? report says that although it is now widely recognised that people over the age of 50 experience discrimination in the labour market, new evidence shows the same prejudices are being faced by employees more than 10 years younger.

Sylvia Francis, the author of the research, says the IT sector, banking, fashion, design and media organisations are the worst offenders.

"These industries are looking to match staff with their perceived young image, and once you hit 40 you no longer fit," she explains.

"In IT, employers perceive older people as not being able to learn the new technologies and juggle the multiple tasks required of them."

Francis believes changing the perceptions of employers is the key to solving the problem.

One important finding in the report was the attitude of managers. It asked them about the positive and negative aspects of employing people over 40. A few said they would make a decision based on the ability of the job applicants, while others talked about their "young" industry and how difficult it would be for older people to fit in.

"The current situation is untenable. Some employers are only looking to recruit people between the ages of 25 and 40, this means just a 15-year span out of a potential lifespan of 90 years," says Francis.

As the report points out, it is not always easy to know whether or not you have been discriminated against.

One respondent to the survey says of an interview he had been to, "There were three people in the room, all in their mid-20s. I felt uncomfortable - they talked about this 'new, dynamic company'. It was not said directly, but I could feel they were trying to discourage me a bit."

Unemployed IT consultant Leonard Sokolic also finds it hard to confirm but believes his age counts against him, particularly in the current economic climate.

"I am 56 and came into the industry at 43. Until recently, there was so much work about that even people my age could get work. Now there is much less we are the last to get a look in," he says.

Sokolic agrees with the report that one of the key issues is the IT sector's obsession with being a young industry.

"I think IT is worse than other industries because it is associated with youth, it is thought that people over 30 have minds that have ossified," he says.

Research carried out by the Employers Forum on Age found that a significant proportion of IT professionals think the term older worker can be applied to someone younger than 35.

Francis says this attitude is forcing older IT professionals to seek alternative employment and is depriving the sector of crucial knowledge and talent. "This will have to change. Ultimately employers are going to have to recruit older people because the economy will not be able to function without them," she says.

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