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Tuesday, 08 February 2011 15:13

Wrinkles rankle recruiters


By 2030 one in five Australians will be aged 65 and over - but they'd best not expect a job in IT&T - a sector showing signs of entrenched ageism. Wrinkles, it seems, rankle recruiters.

The IT Contract and Recruitment Association (ITCRA) which is the peak industry body for IT&T recruitment companies today released its discussion paper into perceived ageism in the sector. Called Mature Age Workers in ICT; foundations, effects and approaches to ageism, the report pulls together information from a wide range of sources to show that older Australians are significantly under represented in ICT's ranks.

While 46 per cent of the Australian workforce falls into the 25-44 years old bracket, 63 per cent of the ICT workforce falls in this age range. However while 22 per cent of workers are 45-54, only 18 per cent of ICT workers are this age.

The problem is even starker in the 55-64 years old bracket. While 18 per cent of all workers are this age, just 7 per cent of IT&T employees fall into this bracket.

Perceptions in HR departments and recruitment firms might be part of the problem.

The report cited one example of a 45 year old who: 'Noticed that he was no longer able to secure the contracting jobs through recruiters he easily secured before, but found he could secure the same types of contract roles by applying direct to employers, circumventing ICT recruiters.'

Robert Brand is one older IT&T worker who is finding it harder to secure a position in a sector which he has served well for 40 years. Aged 59 Mr Brand has an impressive CV and extensive experience.

He has also been without a job since last year.

'I'm still at the pointy end of the stick,' he told iTWire, having recently designed fibre optic networks and rolled out 3G networks. But he's finding HR people don't seem to believe older workers can still be (or even want to be) at the pointy end.

Yet ITCRA's discussion paper notes a survey which shows that in 2010 53 per cent of business and IT professionals expected to work beyond the age of 65.

In job interviews Mr Brand has been asked how he'd feel about working for 25 year old managers. Even when he points out: 'It's not a problem for me, but it may be for them,' he's missed out on roles.

And when individual IT&T executives do recognise his skills and value and want to find him a role, he says they are coming up against the attitude that; 'We haven't got room on the payroll for another white haired guy.' While Mr Brand acknowledged that there are some older people who don't want to take on big new roles as they enter their late 50s and 60s, he stresses that he's not one of them.

Instead he's frustrated that; 'I have to dumb myself down at the interview. Scary isn't it? Ageism might be a real thing.'

ITCRA's new report suggests it is. And although the skills market seems to be taking a short breather at present (the Advantage Job Index for January which was released today shows demand for IT workers fell 2 per cent in January) the long term trend is still positive.

The January Advantage Index for IT workers year on year is up 22.2 per cent, and recruiters are still pointing to an ICT skills shortage taking hold later this year. To exclude a portion of the workforce simply because of their age seems counterproductive.

ITCRA's report however notes statistics from the Equal Employment Opportunity Network of Australia which found that in 2010 while 14 per cent of companies had anti discrimination programmes based around gender issues, just 4 per cent had anti ageism programmes.

In a media release ITCRA CEO Julie Mills said that it was time to: 'Really look at why the industry's age profile is skewed towards younger workers, ask hard questions about what has to be done, and look at new ways that ICT and its service providers can turn the industry into a true leader in workplace diversity.'

As the report notes: 'The ICT recruitment industry is in an excellent position to take a leadership role in this area, using the education, skills and abilities of ICT recruiters and professionals. For recruiters, fair discrimination is part of the job'”but it must navigate the legal passage between unlawful discrimination based on stereotyping and professionally finding the best person for the job by effectively assessing skills, talents and abilities.'

But it also lays some of the responsibility with older IT workers themselves. 'To suggest that discrimination does not occur would be naive; however the statistics suggest that rather than being a case solely of employers and recruiters discriminating against workers, it suggests rather that workers may also be self-selecting to not continue working in ICT beyond 'prime age' for a range of reasons. More research is needed to understand these dynamics as the truth will have a major impact on which future programs will succeed in boosting the age profile of the ICT industry's workforce.'

It also notes that; 'ICT is perceived as the great equaliser, an industry that provides better access to information, better mobility, and better communication to people no matter their location; their financial status; or their mobility. ICT cannot afford to risk damaging this position by allowing the clause to be added, '... unless you're old.'


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