The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that by 2022, mature workers ages 55 and older will make up 25.6% of the workforce—1 out of every 4 workers, or a little more than 32 million people (compared to 11.8% of the workforce, or 15 million workers, in 1992).
Considering there is a current and forecast labor shortage in computer and mathematical occupations (expected to grow to 1.3 million unfilled job openings by 2022), it would be fair to assume technology companies would look to engage mature professionals to fill many of those positions, yet there is scant evidence they are ramping up to do so, despite research showing that these workers are willing and interested: AARP, the mega membership organization for those 50 and older, found in a 2006 survey that "79% of workers age 50+ indicated that they would be interested in taking training related to computers and information/communication technology. Just 19% of 50+ workers feel that they are having trouble keeping up with new technology required to do their jobs."
Whether following chronic unemployment or a desire to change careers, mature professionals could be ideal candidates for many jobs in the technology arena. AARP underscores the skills, experience, and professionalism they bring to the workplace, stating in A Business Case for Workers Age 50+ that "because workers 50+ are less likely than younger workers to leave their jobs unexpectedly, they create value by allowing dollars and time that might otherwise be spent on workforce churn to be more effectively invested in productive measures that impact the bottom line."
Admittedly, some companies show interest in hiring older workers, but it is not at all clear whether it is for technology positions. For example, a 2013 AARP blog post reported that Google, LinkedIn, IT consulting firm Ciber Inc., Unisys, and Mindteck were among 250 companies that had pledged "to recognize the value of experienced workers and vowed to consider hiring older applicants when job openings arise." Unfortunately, none of these companies would verify exactly what these job openings are.
The Institute for the Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP) says "nearly 55,000 computing professionals have already earned the recognition and rewards gained from passing ICCP exams -- the most widely accepted means of professional certification in the industry." The organization did a mini-survey of some of those professionals about technology training, and a little more than half of the 16 responses received indicated their company encouraged older workers (age 45 and older) to be "trained/retrained in current/emerging methods/technologies." Technology companies named as being at the forefront of training/retraining their professionals include Booz Allen Hamilton, Dropbox, Google, managed hosting and data center firm Liquid Web, and a number of federal agencies (although not the contractors working for them).
As several ICCP respondents noted, when it comes to training for technology positions, it is mostly up to workers to motivate themselves to obtain it. There are plenty of resources out there to help them. Of course, there is AARP, whose Life Reimagined initiative partnered with Kaplan Higher and Professional Education to launch LearningAdvisor.com, a "hub for 50-Plus learning." Sophie Vlessing, senior vice president for Strategy & Innovation at Kaplan Higher and Professional Education, said the "partnership with Life Reimagined is to help people get the skills and education they need to achieve their dreams. And IT is a gateway to new possibilities, because without technology there are a lot of things they cannot do. Technology is an enabler, a door opener, a critical stepping stone."
Vlessing noted that when it comes to getting certification and degrees, "IT is one of the most popular areas due to demand." Although the hub receives no support from technology companies, Vlessing pointed out that there are almost 13,000 computer and technology e-courses in the database, the most of any subject by far.
Dean Tsouvalas, editor-in-chief of LearningAdvisor.com, said the most popular technology courses, which are offered for free or at low cost, are Computer Science 101, followed by Mac OS X10.5 Leopard Training, Drupal 7, and Pascal.
Self-described as "the most comprehensive career reentry resource for employers, individuals, universities and professional associations," the site www.irelaunch.com lists companies and institutions interested in hiring mid-career professionals who want to relaunch their careers, including those in technology. CEO and co-founder Carol Fishman Cohen is known for her Harvard Business Review article, "The ‘40-Year-Old Intern’ Goes to Wall Street."
There are also several public initiatives under way to train and engage older workers, such as the Plus 50 Initiative organized by the American Association of Community Colleges. In Boston, the Institute for Career Transitions, founded by MIT-based scholars, helps older professionals unemployed for at least six months. Maria Heidkamp, director of the New Start Career Network at the John J. Heldrich Center for WorkForce Development at Rutgers, mentioned that the network is "launching a new effort on Oct. 20th to help older (45+), long-term unemployed New Jersey job seekers."
If companies are not diversifying and investing in them, it is up to mature professionals to take advantage of learning, training, and intern programs on their own, to prove to employers they have the necessary technology chops to fill those open positions. As Vlassis said, "One of the reasons it’s valuable to have people who have studied online is that it proves they are comfortable with technology. It’s an important indicator to employers that they are constantly striving and learning."
Tatjana Meerman is a freelance technology writer based in the Washington, D.C. area.