New mindset needed to retain older workers

Sometimes called the grey army, workers over 55 may hold the key to help the IT industry overcome continuing skills shortages.

This age bracket has a large number of former IT professionals who fled the industry during the downturn.

But the current skills shortage accompanied by falling enrolments in IT courses has highlighted the need for more experienced staff. IT recruiter Diversiti believes companies are changing their mindset towards workers who are over 55.

The company's sales and delivery manager, Andrew Cross, said mature IT workers can offer just as much as their younger counterparts.

"There's a lot of press about Generation Y but we should be thinking about how we engage the other end of the market," Cross said.

"The IT industry is still seen as a young industry and while you won't find any recruitment company or internal recruitment organization saying they want young guns, underneath the surface that's what they're all thinking."

"But there were a lot of older workers that left the industry during the downturn that might be interested in returning so attitudes need to change." Cross said there is a belief that young people adapt better to technology and respond to changes in the industry more quickly.

"Younger people might be quicker to pick things up, but there's no substitute for experience," he said.

Cross said the key to retaining workers over the age of 55 is flexibility.

"The concept of working for one employer for 40 hours a week is changing, and just like Generation Y, the over 55s want flexibility, and might not necessarily want a full time job," Cross said.

Harris Scarfe IT manager Jeff Hobart says the company has one employee nearing 55, and several in their mid to late 40s.

"It's more important to concentrate on who's appropriate for the job, based on their skills and knowledge, than on what age they are," Hobart said adding that he works harder to retain a person with more experience.

RSM Bird Cameron IT manager Paul Joeseph thinks it's important to have the right mix of old and younger workers.

"The IT industry has a bit of a mix, we have the legacy of the old mainframers, and the young ones entering the industry right now; it's important to get the right balance," Joeseph said.

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