Older workers and technology: Learning opportunity or learning barrier.
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Older workers are often stereotyped as reluctant learners, and particularly unable to adapt to new technology. Yet both research and empirical evidence suggest that this stereotyping is not valid. Older workers have already adapted to significant societal and workplace changes during their lives. They now must deal with the crisis associated with age-based cohorting often by either withdrawing from opportunity or losing confidence in their own abilities. If age is used as the limiting factor then older workers will be denied training in technology. Consequently, older workers will be denied positions where technology skills are important. Such discrimination adds to the problem of digital divide. It also distracts the debate from the real issues surrounding the securing and developing of a competent workforce. Workplace education and training is about developing workforce skills. It recognizes that managers cannot expect optimal performance in a changing world unless investment is made in developing workers hand-in-hand with investment in technologies. The limiting factors in developing workers are attitude and aptitude, not age. Demographic studies signal increased longevity, with resulting stress on affordability of pensions. The response is to increase the pension eligibility age. The workforce will be obliged to accommodate older workers as they seek to secure a living. Therefore, as producers and consumers, older workers can only remain valuable economic contributors if managers remove the age barrier to technology training. There is a huge opportunity for managers to harness the change assimilation experience of older workers if attitude and aptitude are employed as the deciding factors for training and advancement. This paper uses a personal narrative approach, based on the experiences of the authors in New Zealand, to demonstrate how attitude and aptitude have driven their skills development in the uses of technology. The authors, now older workers, have taken office evolution from manual typewriters to high-speed laptops in their stride, and are looking forward to the day when voice activation actually works. They have enjoyed management practices in diverse workplaces that encouraged development, have responded accordingly, and claim modestly that both they and their employers benefited. Over four decades their managers almost invariably employed a partnership approach, seeking to meld individual staff skills, with no apparent concern for age. The authors believe that if managers succumb to an aged-based stereotype and deny older workers opportunity to develop technology skills, then they will increase economic risk all workers, their employing organisations and society generally.
Bourke, J., & Bourke, D. (2010). Older workers and technology: Learning opportunity or learning barrier.