The 7 Things Tech Companies Need To Realize About Older Workers

Attitudes need to change, says the man who brought Tim Cook to Apple.

Ageism runs rampant through Silicon Valley, where older workers are frequently overlooked for jobs. The Huffington Post asked Rick Devine, CEO and founder of  Talent Sky -- and the man responsible for recruiting Tim Cook to Apple in 1998 -- for his views on how attitudes need to change.

Devine noted that these tips apply to companies who currently employ older workers, as well as those who are hiring but tempted not to consider them.

1. Realize that technology marches on for everyone, not just older workers.

The myth is that the technological revolution left older workers in the dust, and that they simply can't keep up with change as well as the so-called digital natives.

Here's a news flash: "The skills of all workers of all ages in all positions in all industries will be outpaced by technological advancements," said Devine. While decades ago, workers could spend their whole careers in jobs where their day-to-day tasks stayed basically the same, that isn't the case today. Workers today live under a constant barrage of changing technology. And more changes are coming. By 2020, at least a third of core skills of most occupations will be skills that aren't important to the job today, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Future of Jobs Report

2. Stop seeing workforce diversity as a good deed; it's good business.

Don't hire older workers because you think the EEOC may be breathing down your neck. Study after study demonstrates the business benefits of workforce diversity, said Devine. Why would you want to push someone toward early retirement when the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Future of Jobs Report says that finding talent is becoming more difficult? Considering that the Center for American Progress says it costs between 10 percent and 30 percent of an employee’s annual salary to replace them, preventing turnover that's a result of age or other biases affects the bottom line. And for a company, that's just dumb.

3. Don't use "cultural fit" as a means to exclude older workers.

If someone has been at your company for a while, it's safe to assume he or she has already proved that they fit in just fine. In the case of new hires, don’t assume that an older worker won’t fit in based on age alone, said Devine. The first thing to do is ask yourself if they have the skills necessary to do the job, he urged. "The No. 1 way to eliminate bias -- whether age or otherwise -- is to isolate the skills needed for success in the roles you’re hiring as a first step, and to eliminate any other factors you might have previously considered as a second," he said. 

4. Think of a fine wine; it improves with age.

The longer a person lives, the longer they’ve likely worked, and the more skills and experience they’ve acquired along the way. 

So think of it like this, Devine says: Where an older worker can learn the same skills as his or her younger counterparts, a younger employee can’t suddenly gain life or work experiences. So if an older worker has the skills you need, it’s safe to assume that they come with some extras too, he noted.

For those who think older workers might be too "stuck in their ways” or “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” don’t assume that stubbornness or unwillingness to learn is a function exclusive to age. It’s a human thing and chances are both those traits could be ascribed to many of the younger employees at your company too, Devine says.

5. Use technology to eliminate bias, not as an excuse to introduce it.

The current employment system -- which relies on resumes, traditional work profiles and employers' sheer gut instincts -- actually can lead to hiring bias. In fact, without a way for companies to look at a person’s skills, which are their only real, concrete qualifications -- they almost 100 percent discriminate based on the superficial (even if unknowingly). Instead of asking about age (or the backdoor way of asking about age when you ask for a college graduation date), instead use technology to gain objective data about candidates’ current skill sets and how they apply to your company’s work demand.

6. Put ongoing training and education programs in place that up the skills of all  workers over time.

Many companies push older employees out the door during layoffs only to go on subsequent hiring sprees to fill new roles with the new skills they need. As the pace of change accelerates, this approach won't just affect older workers; it will affect anyone who doesn't have the tools they need to improve their skills in order to stay relevant. It is important to have ongoing training and education programs that keep long-time, loyal employees up to speed with the company’s demands, said Devine. This is true for workers of all ages, but it is most important to older workers because the ante is higher for them. They’re at risk of not just losing their job, but of falling out of the employment system altogether.

7. Understand that recruiting new talent is expensive and getting harder to do.

As technical jobs become more in-demand and new technologies affect even non-technical jobs, recruitment will become more difficult. There’s currently no standardized way to assess a candidate's fit for a job that didn't previously exist -- or to assess their ability to develop skills they would need to excel in them. Companies should look at older workers through the lens of the relevant skills they do have -- and train them on the rest from there. This ability will become a secret weapon of sorts to companies that adopt this mindset, said Devine.




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