In amongst the, sadly all too prevalent, stories of older IT and computing people being refused interviews or turned down when they are discovered to be greying around the temples, one obvious question keeps coming up. Why do recruiters not simply discriminate on ability?
Well, we like to think we, that is BeIT, do discriminate solely on ability, but there is no doubt that some older people are not up to the jobs we have available. Similarly, there is no doubt that some younger people aren’t up to them either. It is, quite simply, a question of mindset: both the candidate’s and the recruiter’s. In the same way that it was once taken as read that women would leave employment the moment they announced they were pregnant, it is still taken as read that older IT workers are ‘past it’ and ‘not up to speed with the rapidly changing IT work environment.’
The demographics of the country, the immigration that means that outsourcing to Eastern Europe is not always as attractive as it once was, the societal pressures – all these combine to have an effect on how the market perceives any individual. It is up to us all, as candidates and recruiters, to lead the change in the market in such a way that value judgements based on age are no longer even considered relevant. We simply have to insist that it is a person’s ability, or potential, that is first and foremost the benchmark by which they are judged, and, secondly, how their individual personality fits into the team/environment in which they will be working. These are the two crucial variables in any recruitment competition.
When Apple Macs came along, all those ‘old school’ visualisers’ with their drawing boards and pantone pens were under threat. If they couldn’t cope with the new technology, they were toast. But if they could, and their creative skills remained undiminished, then they could command even higher salaries in the brave new worlds of digital design. Age was irrelevant; skill and adaptability were the watchwords.
As far as the ‘fit’ of any individual into a new company is concerned, this is very important, but it is ridiculous to say that someone doesn’t fit because they are older than the average member of the team, any more than it is ridiculous to say that a younger person won’t fit into an older team. In case you need reminding, one of Britain’s greatest sportsmen, Sir Stanley Matthews, was still playing top flight football in his ‘fifties. Age was not a barrier, skill and team-working were, and despite his advanced years, Matthews still cut the mustard. More recently, we have just seen Jo Pavey, winning gold in the European Athletics Championships, at the advanced age of 40. Age really is not the barrier some might think. Yes, of course, as athletes age they can no longer win medals, but this is then a question of ability. And as far as I know, developers and programmers don’t need to run fast or dribble a ball like Matthews. What matters are the skills relevant for the job in question. Age prejudice is still rife, and it is incumbent on all of us to render obsolete attitudes precisely that – obsolete!
Gareth Biggerstaff, MD, BeIT Resourcing