It pays not to make assumptions about people because of their age or in general.
Are older people no good at technology? A session at the Women and Equalities Committee this week explored stereotypes and assumptions about older people around digital exclusion. Helen Dobson of Citizens Online said we should be wary of stereotyping. The traditional picture that is used in digital exclusion stories tends to be an older person with a tablet, she said, adding that some of the digital champions that volunteer for Citizens Online are in their 60s and 70s. That’s certainly what I’ve found talking to older people. Many who are very technologically proficient have fallen foul of the assumption that older people are a bit lost when it comes to IT and have found themselves passed over for job openings.
Simon Lukes, for instance, faced questions about his ability to work on computers which he thought were based on his age, despite the fact that a lot of his background centres on IT. Simon has a degree in electronics and physics and was initially an engineer before moving into housing and then to community development. During Covid he did a voluntary IT role, but despite this he still encountered prejudice.
The other side of the stereotype coin is that it is assumed that all young people are ‘digital natives’, which is not the case. However, old age is still the biggest risk for digital exclusion, particularly those aged 65+, so for those working on this problem they are an important focus. The Committee heard that exclusion can be complicated to measure because older people may have emails and smartphones, but might rely on others to help them access online services.
The moral of the story when it comes to jobs is that assumptions are unhelpful and that employers should talk to and, crucially, listen to their employees and prospective employees [although that assumes that they are able to get past the ageism we know exists in the recruitment process and get as far as being interviewed]. Moreover, all of the workforce needs regular digital upskilling because technology is ever-evolving. Employers should also be aware that some people may struggle more with it than others and need extra support that is tailored to them and that might not necessarily be the people they think.