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Hit the big 4-0 in tech and you’re over the hill

Matthew Smith

Ageism in Tech: half of tech professionals fear it will damage career prospects. Once workers hit the big 4-0, their perceived future career success takes a nosedive. Contributor Matthew Smith, managing director – Regions, Harvey Nash Professional Recruitment.

Thirty-three percent of tech professionals aged 40-44 worry their age will negatively impact their chances of future career success, according to the Harvey Nash Technology Survey 2018. With the average age of the UK population exceeding 40 for the first time in 2014.

so the country’s workforce is ageing too. Yet, the tech industry shows a preference for workers in their mid twenties and thirties, leaving those outside these narrow parameters exposed to age-related bias.

By the time they hit 45, almost half of tech professionals (46 per cent) takes a negative view of their age when it comes to future career success. This is significantly more than those who report age to have no effect (32 per cent) or a positive effect (22 per cent) on their future chances.

The younger generation is not immune from ageism either: 28 per cent of 18-24-year-old tech workers believe their age works against them. This is in sharp contrast with their 25-29 year old peers of which 9 per cent believe it will reduce their prospects of success; the vast majority (63 per cent) sees their age as a positive force.

Matthew Smith, managing director – Regions, 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
Despite the clear challenges facing younger and older workers, there are ways in which tech professionals can future-proof their careers. The survey found that 45+ year old professionals that worked for ‘very innovative’ organisations were less likely to feel their age has a negative effect: 55 per cent compared to 61 per cent of all respondents of that age group overall.

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.

When professionals actively invest their own money in courses or training, the overall proportion of those feeling ‘age negative’ goes down to 55 per cent compared to 61 per cent overall. 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 per cent aged 18-24; 33 per cent aged 25-29). Not surprisingly, 44 per cent of 45-49 year olds do so, which can be attributed to them enjoying the highest median income of all those surveyed.

Smith adds: “It’s shocking that nearly a third of young adults (18-24) feel their age works against them in the workplace. They might be described as the snowflake generation but our research shows that they are taking responsibility for their professional growth by reading and paying for courses themselves. 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.”

The sweet spot generation sees the most investment from employers: 27 per cent of 35-39 year olds enjoy courses and training provided and paid for by their employer. This compares to 23 per cent of 25-29 year-olds and 20 per cent of 50-54 year olds.

“The sweet spot generation of 30-39 year-olds reap the full benefits that comes with experience, financial rewards and training paid for by their employers. But they will need to make hay while the sun shines”, warns Smith. “After all, they’re only 5-10 years away from things taking a turn for the worse if current attitudes towards age remain as they are.”

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