Mature IT pros not disadvantaged by new tech

Experienced professionals need to keep relevant with latest technologies but their importance in leading younger workforce and sharing knowledge not unrecognized by industry recruiters.

The IT industry might appear to welcome a younger demographic of workers given the introduction of newer technologies, which they are familiar with, but the importance of mature professionals with their wealth of knowledge is also valued highly, observers note.

Francis Mok, president of Asia-Pacific Federation of Human Resource Management (APHRM), pointed out that while there hasn't been a specific survey done across the Asia-Pacific region to compare the employment and retention of IT professionals with other industries, the general observation is that people working in the IT sector tend to be younger on average.

"One of the major reasons is that the lifecycle of IT knowledge is relatively short. Thus young graduates have the advantage of bringing freshly acquired IT knowledge into the industry," he said.

For example, the average age for employees at Fuji Xerox's Singapore branch was 37 years old, said Pauline Chua, the company's general manager for human, organization resource and development. Nearly half of its headcount fall in the Gen X bracket, while 30 percent were Gen Ys and 20 percent belonging to the baby boomers era, she elaborated.

Youth not always an advantage
That said, Chua noted age is not the most important aspect of recruitment. "Learning agility, exposure to different work environments, the level of interpersonal and communication skills, and the ability to manage and see projects through to the end" were also highlighted by her as important factors for consideration.

"All knowledge workers are valuable. The fact that they [might be] older means they have more experiences and knowledge than the younger generation," she added.

Charles Chng, business manager of human resource company Manpower Singapore's IT branch, also emphasized the value of more mature IT workers. He said that these employees are valuable not only for their knowledge in IT infrastructure, but also for their overall experience.

"Employers see value in older employees for their commitment, sense of maturity, responsibility and accountability for the work given to them," he noted.

Furthermore, IT infrastructure management requires more than just an academic knowledge of the subject, which is beyond the experience of fresh graduates, Chua pointed out.

"An experienced knowledge worker in the IT field may have the experience to resolve problems more efficiently or may have the influence to manage projects that require the human touch instead of pure technology knowledge," she explained.

Undaunted by latest technologies
Chng added that despite the introduction of new programming languages and social-based technologies, this does not necessarily mean mature IT staff have been disadvantaged.

"The majority of older IT folks are very IT savvy and they are constantly upgrading to improve and increase their knowledge over time," he stated.

There is also no data to justify whether new programming languages are diminishing the value of older IT pros, said Chua.

"Each new programming language is engineered to cater for different development environments. As older IT employees have more experience with real-world design environments, they are able to apply the programming languages in more complex environments," she said.

Should these older workers have the initiative to upgrade themselves by learning new coding languages, the knowledge would make them even more valuable, the general manager added.

Be flexible to retain experienced staff
In terms of employee retention or enticing retirees to re-enter the workforce, APHRM's Mok said companies should look into setting up flexible working arrangements. This can be done through part-time jobs, flexible work schedules, telecommuting, or job sharing, he said.

For existing employees, he suggested a phased retirement scheme in which they can transition from full-time employment to being a full-time retiree. This way, companies can stretch the time in which they are able to harness the strengths of their talents, he said.

Retirees can also be brought back in as mentors or coaches for younger employees, as well as contractors, consultants or advisors, Mok pointed out.

Singapore-based systems integrator NCS is one company that has done so. Soon Fui Yoon, director of human capital marketing at the company, shared that it hires retired IT professionals as consultants or advisors on a freelance or project basis to widen its pool of resources.

"Our older, experienced employees are valuable resources who have built up an immense source of domain expertise and project management skills, which we endeavor to harness at every opportunity," she said.