Talk of skills shortages is a common meme in the IT world, but there's one local pool of staff that Australia hasn't done a good job of drawing on: older workers.
According to the Information Technology and Contract Recruitment Association (ITCRA), contractor roles are highly unlikely to be filled by older workers. In the first three months of 2011, only 6.75% of the ICT hires involving ITCRA members involved placing staff aged between 55 and 64. A research paper on mature workers commissioned by ITCRA suggests that 63% of ICT workers are aged between 25 and 44.
What makes that particularly striking is that the other major trend in IT employment is a lack of relevant skills. As ITCRA CEO Julie Mills noted in a press release responding to recent Budget initiatives designed to improve workplace readiness: "Data from ITCRA’s SkillsMatch database has shown that in the first three months of 2011, over half of all ICT job seekers (55.95 per cent) had less than one year of experience in the primary skill they offer employers, indicating a real need for greater training."
Obviously, an older worker isn't necessarily going to have specific training in newer technologies. On the other hand, it seems reasonable to assume that they will have a broader range of experience, and that this could potentially prove useful in contract roles.
A big part of the problem is that training in general is often neglected, either as a cost-cutting measure or because there's not enough time to systematically plan for it. Mills made that point as well: "The ICT industry moves quickly and it’s easy for skills to become outdated. The more frequently people receive training for their work, the longer they remain productive and active in the workforce."
There's a cyclical element to all this. When it became apparent that a large number of older software systems were going to need altering to deal with the Y2K problem in the run-up to 2000, mainframe COBOL programmers whose skills were previously deemed irrelevant were suddenly back in demand. That, though, was a case of drawing on pre-existing skills, not ensuring that staff of all ages were given the opportunity to stay well-informed.
How well does your workplace rate when it comes to hiring older employees? Tell us in the comments.
Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.