According to an Age Concern/ICM poll conducted in December 2001, 1.8 million people in the UK between the ages of 55 and 64 have suffered ageism in employment. There is no reason to believe that this situation has improved since the poll was conducted. In the IT sector it is widely recognised that age discrimination starts at 35.
The demands of IT require a highly skilled workforce that is well educated and receives adequate and ongoing training. This entails significant investment by both the education system and employers. If as a sector we discard that workforce when it is at its prime, we are adding huge cost to the delivery of IT and placing an unacceptable burden on the economy.
Age Concern England’s experience of recruiting IT staff has demonstrated many of the issues faced by the 40-plus age group who wish to continue their careers in IT.
Having run four recruitment campaigns in five years, we have found that a requirement for candidates with extensive experience is interpreted by most recruitment organisations as five years’ experience and candidates with an average age of 32.
Internet recruitment has offered a far more realistic range of age and experience. The Age Concern logo has attracted applications from candidates across the age range, and we have gained the advantage of recruiting good staff who are over 40 and have masses of excellent experience, the majority of whom have struggled to find work because of their age.
Our IT department is just as vibrant as any other, copes with continuous change extremely well, and presents an image of gravitas and experience to the organisation and, most importantly, to suppliers.
Older workers face many dilemmas: do they place their age on their CV and risk not getting to the interview stage? Is it worse to be rejected before interview or to face an often undisguised discriminatory approach at interview? Does one give in and just accept that in IT 40 is the new 70?
As with all areas of discrimination, social and economic impacts cannot be ignored. At a time when the industry is actively talking about IT skills shortages, it is foolish to ignore a pool of expertise that is willing and able to contribute.
With an ageing population where people need to – and wish to – work longer to ensure security in older age, denying them this opportunity could have dire consequences. The IT sector has a duty to itself and society to address this issue.
On 1 October 2006 new legislation (The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006) will come into force in the UK. The new law will provide protection against age discrimination in employment. It will be a major step towards changing attitudes, but this cannot be achieved by legislation alone.
IT managers need to change their attitude to older workers and take advantage of the wealth of expertise and experience waiting to contribute to their organisations.
Ruth Rosenthal is director of IT at Age Concern England