How Badly Do IT Employers Discriminate Against Older Workers?

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 Mills made that point as well: “The ICT industry moves quickly and it’s easy for skills to become outdated.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.


  • this study is pointless as the majority of IT contractors (from my experience at least 99%) aren’t actually members of ITCRA. It’s like the Australian Computer Society (ACS) coming up with stats about it’s members where 99% of IT professionals aren’t members of ACS. Why doesn’t ITCRA give us the actual number of members they have as that’ll allow us to see whether or not the 6.75% is even trasnferable to the wider IT contracting market as a whole.

  • I’d suspect a lot of IT workers in the older group have either settled into a position or have sufficient contacts that they get new roles through word of mouth.

    I see training/education/experience as a bigger issue. Firms tend to want someone immediately who knows it rather than starting the process earlier and train someone into the skills.

    One quote I love
    “What if I train people and they quit ?”
    “What if you don’t, and they stay ?”

  • Ageism is alive and well in IT, but nobody will admit it. Only the smarter employers realise that it actually pays to hire older staff.

    But few managers like to have staff reporting to them that are older and more experienced, so they argue that older workers are more expensive, less up-to-date in their skills, and less flexible or ‘dynamic’ than younger workers. In many cases, none of these arguments are valid. However, they don’t see that they are causing the problem by their lack of experience & maturity.

    So much for the prized view of superior Australian management. The sad reality is that many of these same ‘manager’s don’t have adequate people management training and therefore don’t hire the right/best people. This problem is also compounded by young inexperienced recruiters & HR staff who filter job applications out without having the skills to understand / appreciate the value of the applicant – regardless of the applicant’s age.

    IT recruitment is in a poor state, with a lot of people in the wrong jobs, and a lot of good people without jobs. I know, I’m one of them.

  • Interesting thing about shortages.

    I just finished 4 years at one of the bigger domain registrars that were Melbourne based. They’ve lost multiple techs for their hosting support and did not do much to keep us (I didn’t even get an exit interview).

    In my experience, the shortage with is due to over working and under paying. (Our awards system classified us as clerks)

    Since leaving I’ve found a job outside the IT industry that pays more with better benefits.

    I think a lot of this stems from management misunderstanding the importance the requirements of the job.

    • @Another Melbourne Gamer
      Can I ask what job you went to outside of the IT industry?

      Im really interested in this, Ive just hit 30, Ive got 6 years experience in IT and it’s just not making me happy. There’s got to be more to life.

      – Alex.

  • I can tell you as the number 1 job board in Australia for Mature Age job seekers it is very dfficult to get IT Departments and IT Recruiters to look seriously at employing Older Workers.

  • I’d hire a mature age IT worker over a 20(something) any day because of their work ethic. You don’t see people in their 40’s and 50’s idling through their days on Youtube and Facebook at work! As for IT management? As a contractor, I’ve seen the technically inept, the great and the self-absorbed. Best you can guess which group is in the majority. 😉

  • The great danger of this translates into fewer kids wanting to be IT professionals, if they feel any insecurity in long term job stability. IT firms, from Apple to Google, are driven by a high stock price, keeping wages and costs low if there is a worker shortage. The “excuse” to fire or not hire the older worker is all about “culture”, not making a good product or service, and profits from not training the older worker in new technologies.

    IT companies earn20-40% profits on their products, and a high stock price is the result, for upper management is is payoff for this cost cutting.

    It used to be that companies valued their employees, and older workers in general. Gone is the fixed pension and 40 year retirement parties with gifts. With IT and other company CEO’s now billionaires, those days are gone for good!

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