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Age is no barrier when embracing new technology

Age in no barrier to new technology

Mark McCallum, CTO and Head of Solutions, sub-Saharan Africa, Orange Business Services.

In the rapidly evolving world of technology, which influences so much of our lives, South Africa’s society tends to equate innovation with the youth. However, creativity isn’t the sole preserve of the young, in any field, and the older generation should be embracing new technology and playing more of a role in designing the future.

Over 50s are often considered to be resistant to change and even ‘technophobic’. But this is nothing more than a stereotype that is past its sell-by date, according to a new study by Dropbox and market research firm Ipsos Mori. The two companies surveyed 4073 workers about their use of technology in the workplace. Of these, 984 were aged between 45 and 54 and 1337 of the survey group were 55+.

The results are not what many would expect Older workers use, on average, 4.9 different types of technology per week – against an overall average of 4.7, and they also found using technology in the workplace less stressful than their younger counterparts. Only 24 percent of the 55+ age group said they found technology at work stressful, compared to 30 per cent of 18–34-year-olds.

Millennials still think that older workers are slower at getting to grips with technology, though. 59 percent of 18–34-year-olds believe this to be the case against 38 percent of 55+-year-olds. “In today’s social age there is a desperate need for technical ability and business experience to come together,” explains Mark McCallum, Country Manager at Orange Business Services in South Africa. The number of young people in South Africa’s working-age population increased from 18,3 million in 2008 to 19,5 million in 2014. Over this period, the number of employed youth declined by 467 000 to 6 million, while the number of unemployed increased by 319 000 to 3,4 million. The figures still show that there is a huge number of millennials entering the workforce and the older generation are experiencing tough competition.

The AARP Foundation, the charitable arm of a group for seniors also found in a recent study that older workers are adept at using new technology, including social media and the internet, and are eager to learn new tech skills. AARP Foundation is working with the Clinton Global Initiative and the College of America to provide workers over 50s with the opportunity to build technology skills and pursue degrees. The biggest hurdle, according to the AARP, is “helping older workers understand just how valuable they are” by changing corporate culture and disrupting old ways of thinking.

Company culture more important than age A survey of 3,000 workers commissioned by Cisco and the Institute of Cultural Capital (ICC) found that creating a positive digital culture in the workplace and encouraging worker confidence in digital tools was more important than age.

“In today’s digital workplace, it is fair to say that we are all probably guilty of assuming that someone’s generation influences the expected ease with which they are able to adapt to new digital ways of working,” explained Professor Simeon Yates of the ICC. “Our findings suggest it may be time to revisit our perception of digital natives or millennials. We found that workplace confidence and home confidence are not strongly linked. We also found that age is not a determining factor for confidence with digital technology in either setting.”

The survey found that organisational culture had a bigger impact on the rates of digital adoption. For example, the more time an organisation spends consulting staff and building a culture that nurtures an acceptance of change, the more effective the implementation of digital technology is. Unfortunately, 64 percent of workers in the Cisco/ICC survey stated that they weren’t consulted prior to the provision of new digital technologies.

Don’t force new technology on staff without training According to the Cisco/ICC research, workers want greater dialogue on the digitalisation of their organisation and the digital workspace. A startling 40 percent stated that the digital technology being rolled out in their organisation wasn’t explained effectively and 57 percent said they would like more information on how to use the new technology being deployed.

Leadership also came under fire in the communication strategy. Just under of a third (29 percent) of respondents stated that they thought the leadership team was struggling to push through new digital ways of working and that their organisation is not ‘culturally ready’ to embrace digital solutions.

Enterprises cannot rely on a workforce to bring their personal expertise to the digital workspace. “Social media-savvy Millennials may not be the solution to help them face digital disruption and transformation,” explained Professor Yates.

A mature approach Older workers can contribute much in knowledge and skills to businesses. Here are a few recommendations to help your experienced staff continue to be a productive part of the team:

Ensure they are included in new technology training courses so that they can contribute even more to the organisation’s infrastructure Encourage older workers to be part of leadership and innovation programs. Acknowledge the experience older workers have and encourage them to share it. Set up mentoring programs. Older workers can be invaluable mentors to younger colleagues.

In order to keep updating skills and competencies, training has to be planned and adapted to different learning paths for younger and older workers. “If a company can maintain the development of their employees by training and up-shilling them regularly throughout their career, they are likely to continue learning over their lifetime of work,” concludes McCallum.

By Mark McCallum, Country Manager at Orange Business Services in South Africa