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Just 22% of techies in UK aged 50 or older, says Chartered Institute for IT

Why not recruit mature folk from outside industry? Why not keep experience in place for longer

A little more than one in five techies in Britain is aged 50 or older, and enticing more of that demographic to enter the world of information technology could help alleviate a perennial skills gap.

This is according to research by the British Computer Society (BCS), which reckons just 22 percent (413,000) of the 1.9 million IT specialists in the local industry are at or past the half century mark.

To fall in line with the average number of 50 year olds or older across all other employment areas (561,000) in the UK, an additional 148,000 people in that grouping are needed in the tech sector, the BCS claimed, basing its finding on data provided by the Office for National Statistics.

'We can only achieve the government's ambition for the UK to be the 'next Silicon Valley' by closing the digital skills gap and making this vital profession attractive to a far broader range of people," said Rashik Parmar MBE, CEO of the BCS.

For those not aware, the UK government's latest harebrained scheme, outlined in the Autumn statement by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, is to convert the island nation into "the next Silicon Valley". Sounds plausible? Oven-baked plan? No, we didn't think so either.

The age factor was most pronounced in the north-east of the UK where just one in eight programmers/developers was 50 or over, the research found – but didn't state why.

In 2021, there were an estimated 13,000 unemployed IT specialists that have reached the semi-century. This equated to an unemployment rate of 3.1 per cent compared to 1.5 percent aged 16 to 49, said the BCS. Older techies still in employment are more likely to be self-employed than their younger counterparts and also more likely to be working part time, it added.

In terms of qualifications, the older IT crowd is less likely to have higher education qualifications – 64 percent versus 84 percent among those aged 16 to 49. And nine percent are likely to have an IT degree compared to 12 percent among the more youthful grouping.

The median hourly wage for older techies is £25, which is 14 percent higher than for IT specialists as a whole.

"Information technology changes lives," said Parmar, "yet employers are struggling to find workers with the right digital skills. The figure for over 50s working in IT is significantly lower than in other sectors."

"This is clearly costing the economy and society, given how computing is woven into everyday life," he added. "The message must be that you can become an ethical, trusted and highly competent tech professional no matter what your background or age."

As an aside, Parmar, who joined BCS in August, was formerly a fellow and vice president of technology at IBM – a company that has itself received some criticism in recent years for letting go a wave of mature, experienced techies. A number brought age discrimination cases, some of which have been settled.

According to research in October, the cost of living crisis is forcing retirees to come back to the office to top up their pension and manage household bills. Yet in tech, jobs are relatively well paid and so IT engineers that decided to retire are unlikely to return, global recruitment agency Robert Walters told us.

The agency added that getting back into tech wasn't necessarily an easy move to make, as retirees might have missed out on qualifications and exposure to evolving technology.

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