Ageism in tech: younger generation not immune

Once workers hit the big 40, their perceived future career success takes a nosedive, but the younger generation is not immune from ageism either, according to a survey from Harvey Nash Technology.

It found that 28% of 18-24 year-old tech workers believe their age works against them. This is comparable with the one in three tech professionals aged 40-44 who feel the same.

The tech industry is often accused of having an obsession with ‘youth’, yet the survey shows the tells a different story, showing a preference for workers in their late twenties and thirties, but leaving those outside these narrow parameters exposed to age-related bias.

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While those in the infancy of their career are pessimistic about current job prospects it’s not all bad news for twenty-somethings. Those aged 25-29 appear the most confident about their age contributing to career success: 6 in 10 (63%) believe their age improves their chances of excelling in their career. This compares to only 12 per cent of workers over the age of 45 who believe their age will be a positive aspect when searching for a new job.

Andrew Heyes, managing director – South, Harvey Nash Professional Recruitment, says: “Ageism is a hidden inclusion issue. It has the potential to affect all tech workers if employers fail to recognise and act on the problem. We live in uncertain times, but there are steps employees and employers alike can take to help build more resilient and inclusive workplaces and ensure everyone, regardless of their age, can enjoy fuller and longer working lives. It has to start with an open and honest conversation.”

Future-proofing careers

Those aged 25 to 39-years old are the most desirable tech candidates. For this age group the positives that come with their age far outweigh any neutral or negative effects on career success.

This is further supported, as 27% of employees in the ‘sweet spot’ generation said their organisation was helping by paying for courses or providing training. This figure drops to 22% for the 18-24-year-old age group and falls even further to 19% by the time people hit 50.

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Yet, younger people appear to be taking responsibility for their own professional development. 18-24-year-olds were more likely (64%) to take free courses or read in their own time to develop new skills, compared to only 56% of 30-35-year-olds. Despite having significantly less disposable income than their older peers, a third of those in their twenties pay for courses out of their own pockets (35% aged 18-24; 33% aged 25-29). Not surprisingly, two-fifths of 45-49 year olds, the group with the highest median income of all those surveyed, do so.

Gandalf-style roles as insulation

Regardless of the clear challenges facing younger and older workers, there are ways in which tech professionals can future-proof their careers. 45+ year old tech professionals who worked for ‘very innovative’ organisations were less likely to feel their age has a negative effect.

The biggest age insulation factor is job role, especially where long-term experience and deep expertise are highly valued. Tech professionals who are involved in management (CIOs, CTOs or development managers) or who have Gandalf-style roles (architects, support engineers) see their careers much less affected by age. The survey showed that a technical architect will have to wait until their late fifties before age becomes a negative influence.

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Heyes adds: “It’s encouraging that young adults are firmly taking charge of their own career progression in a bid to circumvent that old conundrum of employers looking for a ‘graduate with a minimum of two years’ experience’.

There is something to be said for employers to be more forthcoming with courses and training that will enable these young people to grow into the type of job roles – management or highly experienced Gandalf-style roles – that protect against ageism in later life.”

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is the editor for Information Age. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and cyber security.

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