Too old to be in ICT?

Triggered by the headline “Average ICT person not older than 40”, the business press commented on a publication by two very renowned research organizations in The Netherlands (ROA and CBS), a rather furious polemic started on the topic of age discrimination in the ICT industry. Is having an ICT career above 40 difficult and above 50 impossible?

The average age in ICT seems to be 38,6 years, with slight differences between the more technical and functional roles, but with only 14-16% above the age of 50 years.

Some of the reactions and their source:

  • Job hunting at 40-plus gets difficult; above 50 they have been written off completely (HR-advisor)
  • Above 40 you can’t cope with the changes constantly going on in ICT (29 year old systems manager)
  • We have a far broader knowledge than the generation born during the Windows years (50+ veteran who often needs to get the youngsters out of trouble)
  • I have seen worn out employees of 28 and sparkling ones of 60 (HR Director)
  • If two about the same individuals for the same job apply the older one is more expensive so we hire the younger one (HR professional)
  • They might be Euro 30 cheaper an hour but what they mess up because of their lack of experience will be far more costly (50+ freelance project manager)
  • When the HR departments see a birth date before 1960 they don’t even answer the letter (48 year old IT-specialist)

Personally, I always just looked for drive and talent when hiring employees. Age, gender, and race have never been a prime consideration in selecting the right person. And if, then only as positive discrimination: we need e.g. still more woman in ICT. You could ask if turning to a 50+ myself has influenced me in this not discriminating hiring. I don’t believe so. I once hired an 18 year old high school drop-out because he had talent, had a sharp mind and was not afraid to fight for his case. Managerial not the easiest choice but he paid back the company and thus himself tenfold. A number of my 50+ hires, both in consultancy and sales, proved to be very worthwhile and absolutely were bringing in the value that they might have cost more. In a team, if possible I looked for a broad spectrum of backgrounds because it enriches the personal dialogues and understanding between colleagues. Lunch discussions about music, friends and cars can get boring unless they are intertwined with stories about (grand)children, retirement plans and wine tasting. No generation gaps and especially the younger ones liked it.

As far as I can remember, I never fired somebody for his or her age only. Individual performance and attitude vs. business needs and rules were always the basis. Both trade unions and some HR managers act wrongly here in my opinion. Neither last-in/first-out principles nor early retirement for cost reasons are the right way to choose. A solid sustainable organization needs a balanced crew, mirroring society. And since our western society is inevitably getting grayer and birth rates are ever decreasing, we need to pay for this by working longer. ICT will need the 50+ generation more than they know. So keep investing in anybody that wants to learn and shows a drive to evolve with the times, regardless of age.

Please share me your thoughts on this.

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