Age is an asset, say greying workers

Some experienced high-tech workers say age discrimination is not prohibiting them from functioning effectively within their organizations. But others tell a different story.

Faye West has been in the IT industry for 35 years, and began as a programmer at the University of Alberta. West, now 54, is the director of information systems at the Alberta Research Council in Edmonton. She said working in IT keeps workers young as it doesn’t allow a person to stagnate in their career. However, it does lend itself to a specific breed of individuals, she added.

“It’s a fast paced, high pressure industry that lends itself to young people. It’s a young single guy industry in many respects,” said West.

While she doesn’t personally feel that her age or another’s age is of any real importance, she speculated that older professionals seeking employment could face some problems because of their age. She said what grey-haired people bring to a company is the experience of dealing with critical issues – recognizing and dealing with them effectively.

Defining what is old in any industry is not easy to do, but Ted Barnicoat gave it a try. Anyone in their forties in IT would be considered old, he said. The CIO for Tri Mac Corp. in Calgary has been associated with the industry since 1967 and began as a programmer. At 57, he said he doesn’t feel any discrimination because of his age today, but there was a time when he felt otherwise.

“If you asked the question five years ago then I think the answer might have been yes, because there was a resistance to process change, mostly around changing the back office functions.” He said that during the dot-com explosion there was disgust at young individuals who made huge amounts of money in a short period of time. But he emphasized that individuals in IT are valued for their contributions, and age hasn’t made a great difference, but industry experience has led most companies to hire older staff.

“Most companies today are looking to hire older IT workers because the nature of information technology is that we have matured to the point where they are part of most business processes. Most enterprises, both public and private are going to have senior level people.”