Let’s recognise the value of lifetime skills

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It doesn't make sense to have technology experts driving taxis.

Yet, despite skills shortages and the economy experiencing capacity constraints, fifty-year-olds are still perceived as being past their use-by-date in the workforce.

At the same time, the latest census data reveals that 11 percent of Australia’s population is between 55 and 64. By mid-century, over 25 percent of Australia’s population will be aged over 65. It is these people that the ICT industry needs to do more to attract, retain and retrain.

People are telling me that they feel ‘on the scrapheap’ once they hit 45, and yet these are the very people who have a lifetime of skills and experience to harness.

One woman I spoke to recently said she was advised by a recruitment company to change her resume to say ‘more than 10 years’ experience’ instead of ‘more than 20’ and to remove the dates from her degrees – all to reduce the perception that ‘older’ means ‘out-of-date’.

Another highly qualified IT professional has written to me to say that: “I barely received acknowledgement of my professionally prepared resume until I removed all dates that went back past 1985! Now I'm starting to get responses and interviews are being scheduled.”

I know another man who applied for 160 IT positions before he was successful. Technology is now used to filter resumes and automatically match candidates against jobs. However, there’s a downside: these programs can often miss the subtleties of a person’s skill set and may unintentionally discriminate against certain demographics.

In the ICT industry, where work is increasingly based on knowledge-creation, the focus needs to be on the workplace as a key arena for encouraging ‘lifelong learning’ as part of work.

Retaining and retraining older workers will save recruiting costs, maintain institutional memory and technical knowledge and give a higher return on investment in training.

However, it’s not just the responsibility of employers.

Employees need to recognise that they work in a fast-paced industry where training is paramount. Continuing employment or re-entering the workforce may require a commitment to retrain and some attitudinal shifts too.

The most important factor in a mature person’s employment prospects is: are they adaptable? Those most at risk of redundancy and underemployment have had fewest opportunities to acquire new skills and develop a positive attitude to learning.

Australia’s economic growth – and our industry’s prosperity - is partly dependent on mature-age workers remaining in the workforce for as long as possible, so it’s time to discard negative perceptions of baby boomers and support them in their working lives as much as Gen-X and Yers.
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