One of the IT industry’s biggest challenges is finding qualified candidates, yet employers are overlooking a large talent pool: older workers. By 2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects, the labor force will grow to about 164 million people, including 41 million people who will be 55 and older. Data from IT industry association CompTIA’s 2021 report on the U.S. tech workforce, however, shows that just 20% of workers across all tech jobs are 55 or older.
That’s a lot of untapped potential, particularly during a pandemic in which many older workers have retired, been laid off, or stepped away (women in particular) for caregiving but still have up-to-date skills, says Kerry Hannon, author of 14 books, including Getting the Job You Want After 50 For Dummies. “People took early retirements; they were dangled these packages. But to be honest with you, they don't really want to retire.”
Whether such people are looking to re-enter the workforce full time or on a part-time or contract basis, the opportunity for small tech firms is “fantastic,” Hannon says. “You've got that advanced skill set from the individual, but they're not necessarily looking for the full freight, so it can be very affordable for a small, nimble startup. They get that expertise without having to ramp up anyone for training.”
Moreover, older workers are more settled and less inclined to job hop, Hannon says, plus they have “decades of verbal and written communication skills,” which is important for customer-facing roles.
Business coach Erick Simpson says many of his MSP clients have older workers in sales or highly skilled tech roles. “They haven't hired them specifically because they're older, but because they have been in the industry for so long and have these competencies,” he notes.
Particularly for tasks such as sales or strategic business reviews, older workers bring a level of maturity to the table when conversing with business owners, Simpson adds.
They also have tech skills that digital natives may not, says James Stanger, chief technology evangelist with CompTIA. “We live in a cloud-first world, but there's a lot of older systems that will hang around us for a long time and people need to know about how they work.”
Yet the culture in tech has long been geared toward younger hires, a bias typified by Meta (formerly Facebook) founder Mark Zuckerberg’s infamous declaration in 2007 that “young people are just smarter.”
This attitude is subtly perpetuated by how the industry seeks workers, says Stanger, pointing to job descriptions. “Even for senior roles, they'll say something like, 3 to 7 or 7 to 10 [years of experience]. That sends a very specific message.”