Thought for the day:The ageist agenda behind recession

Hard-hitting IT columnist Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.My friend, a long-standing director of...

Hard-hitting IT columnist Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.My friend, a long-standing director of a well-known IT company, was visibly shocked. The previous day, we had been discussing the expected wave of redundancies that was about to wash over the UK. He had thought his own job was safe.

Instead, he and several other members of senior management had been given their marching orders, leading me to comment that it was all rather looking like an episode of Band of Brothers. It's hard to find anyone over the age of 48 who is left in this business after the events of the past 12 months.

Another person, a "knowledge worker" in the IS department of a well-known company, told me: "It's getting silly. All the plants have been removed and there's no coffee for meetings either. There are very few Indians left to do the real stuff and a disproportionate number of chiefs with grand titles hanging on by their fingernails.

"It's all rather sad and is creating more inefficiency rather than achieving the streamlining that the US HQ had in mind."

Earlier this month, I wrote about the silent recession and I'm wondering how much longer we can ignore what's happening in the industry around us. This week, I learned that Unisys, a company that made savage cuts last November, is about to prune its European workforce back even further, and it's not the only company to do so.

What appears to be happening in many cases is that the US headquarters of large and well-known companies, worried by declining sales, poor forecasts or even prospects of a visit from US watchdog the Federal Trade Commission, conduct a workforce reduction exercise on a spreadsheet which, in some regions, ignores the successful operations and collectively axes entire programmes or departments in the interest of reducing costs globally.

Here in the UK there's also a vague and sinister sense of ageism a work. Of course, senior management are expensive but I can't help but wonder whether "the recession" is also being used as a convenient excuse to remove the so-called "geriatrics" in larger organisations - that's anyone like me, over the age of 45 and who admits to owning a cardigan and a Volvo.

Forget then, the glossy television and Web site advertising, because where can all these IT people go? I certainly don't know, but I believe that many big companies are too under-resourced to offer their customers the service they deserve and that a great many talented individuals are suddenly finding themselves holding P45s with little or no prospect of finding work in the foreseeable future.

I can recall two previous recessions in this industry and both were painful and more like sudden contractions compared with what I have witnessed in the past 18 months.

While IT companies peddle the benefits of technology, they forget that any dreams of e-business and even a knowledge economy have to be built by people, and that the gravitational effect of downsizing can only go so far before this industry slowly collapses into a black hole of its own creation.

Meanwhile, the expression "buddy, can you spare a dime?" springs to mind, and for those readers who have recently received or are about to receive bad news, I can only wish you luck and a more profitable career outside the ungrateful world of IT.

What's your view?
Is ageism rife in the IT industry? Tell us in an e-mail >> CW360.com reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Zentelligence Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.
This was last published in August 2002

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