The Risks of Innovation Leaving Older Workers Behind

The challenges that older workers face in finding new jobs could reflect darkening economic clouds—as well as weaknesses in the efforts to keep older employees up to speed with growing trends, particularly in fields such as technology.

When gaps emerge in the workforce, they create opportunities for associations to step up and work to close them in their respective industries.

And one area where things are opening up in a big way is the knowledge gap for older workers, particularly in areas such as information technology. As The Wall Street Journal recently reported, 61 percent of all IT workers are between the ages of 22 and 44, a far higher percentage than the 49 percent of the overall workforce that age group makes up, according to CompTIA data.

Two root causes are cited by the report: a lack of ongoing education to keep skills up to date as technology evolves; and growing wages as executives age, leading organizations to hire younger employees with lower salary requirements.

Speaking to the Journal, Martha Heller, CEO of  Heller Search Associates, noted that the issue reflects a latent bias among employers.

“More and more hiring managers associate technology innovation with youth,” Heller told the newspaper. “Age bias is alive and well in technology recruiting.”

Some see the issue as one that must be solved. AARP, for example, has taken steps to open up job-recruiting opportunities for older individuals as they retain interest in staying in the workforce, though the association’s focus has been on lower-level positions.

Beyond bias issues, employers must learn to embrace older employees for the simple fact that demographic trends show they will make up a larger part of the economy.

Speaking to MarketWatch, Paul Irving of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging noted that it was important to make room for a variety of age groups in the workplace, which could increase an organization’s overall effectiveness.

“We’re talking about designing the workforce of the future. There’s increasing understanding that mixed-age teams may outperform both exclusively-young and exclusively-old groups,” Irving told the outlet. “In the years ahead, enlightened companies will emphasize intergenerational strategies that capitalize on the energy and speed of youth and the wisdom and experience of age.”

The challenges older workers face in finding a job could also reflect potential long-term economic risks. In a recent Forbes piece, economics professor Teresa Ghilarducci of The New School noted that older employees are already feeling the impact of a potential recession in the form of lower average weekly earnings.

“In economics, things look good before they get worse,” she notes. “Jobless rates for all workers, including workers over age 55, are usually unbelievably low right before they get inhumanely high.”

(jacoblund/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!