'IT industry is ageist', says Barrett

The IT industry and government should help older workers keep pace with new technologies through training, says Intel chairman Craig Barrett.
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor on

Intel's chairman has criticized the IT industry for being ageist when it comes to recruitment and urged older IT professionals to combat this bias by retraining.

Speaking at roundtable event in conjunction with U.K. charity Age Concern, Intel's 66-year-old former chief executive Craig Barrett said the IT industry and government should help older workers keep pace with new technologies.

"Yes there is ageism, not just in the IT industry, but in all industries. Workplaces should recognize the need for skills, as opposed to having to train people from scratch," Barrett told ZDNet UK.

Businesses should focus on ongoing training for staff so they don't become obsolete, while governments should subsidize retraining for those aged over 50, Barrett added.

"Everyone has a responsibility to improve skills. Government-run retraining has a role, while businesses such as our own require their professional skills to be updated," said Barrett. "I think every government recognizes the need for education and training programmes."

But IT professionals also need to play a role in their own training according to Tristan Wilkinson, the U.K. public sector director for Intel told ZDNet UK. "If your skill-set is associated with a technology that's approaching the end of its natural life, then you are faced with a choice--you can reskill [sic], or you can follow that technology to the end," he said. "You need to audit yourself and be aware of changes in technology."

However Industry watchers have warned that public sector organizations as well as banks and other financial services companies face a potential legacy skills time bomb. As an aging population of technology workers retire, there could be a severe lack of expertise in programming languages such as COBOL and Fortran.

But a shortage of legacy skills could benefit older workers and go some way to compensate for ageism in the industry, according to Bill Bentley, a managing consultant for Fujitsu Business. As more legacy workers retire, the remaining ones will become more highly sought after, he recently told ZDNet UK's sister site Silicon.com.

"The skills are dwindling so companies have to pay increasingly high contractor rates. If [firms] are running their business on technology that is getting harder to support that will drive a move," said Bentley.

Barrett agreed that as some legacy skills became more scarce, businesses would ultimately pay more for them but added that companies would also look to replace older systems.

"Will supply and demand dictate a rise in wages for COBOL programmers? I think the real issue will be a movement away from older infrastructures, but if you need Fortran, you will end up paying for it," said Barrett.

The Intel chairman added that he wouldn't recommend people train in older programming languages. "There will be a scarcity of expertise, but I wouldn't suggest people major in vacuum tubes, and there's a scarcity of vacuum tubes as well," added Barrett.

Intel and Age Concern have announced an initiative aimed at raising awareness of digital exclusion amongst older people in the United Kingdom. The aim is to help older people become more socially included and more employable through improved computing skills.

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