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Think older workers struggle with technology? Think again

Andy Patrizio | Aug. 4, 2016
Don't let the millennial buzz fool you. Older workers handle and adapt to new systems better than younger people.

What Baesman is describing is the problem that drove the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon. People started pushing to use their personal systems on the job because they were frustrated with using old, ineffective computers and BlackBerries at work and then going home to modern PCs and smartphones.

That frustration is what the Dropbox/Ipsos survey tapped into. Far from being untrainable or uncomfortable with new technologies, older workers experience the same frustration with clunky systems that younger people feel, and therefore they’re as likely to embrace new technologies as the youngsters. "We saw older workers on par with younger workers in terms of technologies they were working with and their own sense of comfort in using those things," Baesman says.

When you look at how quickly technology has been evolving, everyone in today's workforce has seen rapid change, he says. Whether you’re 25 or 65, you’ve experienced it in your lifetime and you’ve learned to adapt.

Ditch your resume

One thing contributing to the notion that older people don’t have modern skills is our reliance on the resume as a barometer of an individual’s capabilities, says Rick Devine, CEO of TalentSky, a jobs website. A document with nothing more than a list of previous jobs doesn’t give a good indication of how tech-savvy a person might be, he says. TechSky’s alternative approach is to focus on skills and talents — the skills and talents that an individual currently has, and the skills and talents that employers are seeking.

"Our employment system is based on a document that is a hundred-year-old convention,” says Devine. “We're moving to an employment system that needs to be based on networks. Networks expose the demand of things and supply things. Resumes don’t create the visibility of job skills that are needed. Not personality traits but work skills, the things you do to accomplish work."

However accurate or inaccurate the image of technophobic older workers may be, the stereotype does persist. Baesman says there’s no single industry that’s particularly egregious when it comes to ageism, but Devine knocks the tech industry for being ageist, due to the fact it's a young industry. "I've been in the Silicon Valley for 30 years and remember when no one in the industry had 20 years of experience,” he says. “Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were on the covers of Fortune in their 20s."

In contrast, some industries, notably financial services and banking, are more comfortable with executives in their 60s and 70s. "The tech industry is unusual in that it's such an age-biased industry,” says Devine. “Today we're dealing with an almost 40-year-old industry. We're just now realizing it's OK to be 50."

 

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