Looking beyond nose rings and purple hair

To hear some companies talk today, you would think no qualified IT workers could be found for thousands of miles at a stretch.

However, if these companies would only expand their searches beyond employees who sport nose rings and spiked hair, they will find good workers. Yes, we are talking about the dreaded “over-age-40” candidates and their “outdated” knowledge and experience.

The top five reasons most companies do not hire 40-plus workers are:

No. 5: “They are unwilling to change their ways.”

Believe it or not, change has been happening for a long time. Twentysomethings and thirtysomethings did not invent change; it’s just happening faster now. Older workers have experienced change from mainframes and glasshouses to the rise of PCs, LANs and WANs. Current trends such as client/ server, distributive networking and hosted applications are just new flavours of old favourites. Like recycled fashion, it all comes around again and again.

No. 4: “The 40-plus workers want higher salaries.”

You get what you pay for. The experience the 40-plus worker brings not only to his position, but also to the rest of the IT team, can be invaluable. Just ask MCI WorldCom or Lucent if they could have used a few more older, wiser, greyer, experienced network engineers during the recent frame relay meltdown. Plus, consider the replacement and retraining costs when that twentysomething jumps ship in a year for more money. The 40-plus worker may value stability and will not be lured away by a competitor waving free pizza and Jolt Cola.

No. 3: “Over-40s do not have the current skill set our company needs.”

How many companies are still running mission-critical applications on legacy systems more than 5 years old? With the network meltdowns and electronic commerce Web site crashes going on, it would appear that some skill sets never go out of style. Critical IT skills such as disaster-recovery planning, multisystem integration, maintenance of 24-7 operations, live systems upgrades and management of mission-critical systems come from the “been there, survived that” 40-plus workers.

No. 2: “Older workers don’t want to take orders from those 10 or 20 years younger.”

Maybe thirtysomething managers need additional training if they can only effectively lead twentysomethings.

No. 1: “They do not want to work the 14-hour days that younger employees are willing to work.”

Do not confuse willingness with need. Could it be possible that an over-40 employee has the knowledge, experience and ingenuity to accomplish the same work in less time? The IT veteran might help your twentysomething stars work smarter instead of harder.

An older employee may not have body-piercing experience. However, think how much you will know 15 years from now, and ask yourself if some company might benefit from that knowledge.

Briere is president and Heckart is vice president of TeleChoice, a consultancy in Boston.