Even in this era of economic uncertainty and widespread tech layoffs, the market for tech workers remains strong. The unemployment rate in the tech sector has hovered at just over 2% during the last few months of 2022, compared with an overall national unemployment rate of 3.7%.
For many, transitioning into the IT field is a tempting option. And this is especially true given the increased reach of tech since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Already ubiquitous, tech is now a cornerstone of most industries and the competition for skilled tech workers is strong.
While the entry of new collar workers and recent graduates of post-secondary and certification programs into the field is often discussed, what about older workers?
The Great Unretirement
One unexpected consequence of the pandemic was a large increase in the number of retirees. According to The Washington Post, the first 18 months of the pandemic saw about 2.4 million more people retire than predicted. People left their jobs earlier than expected for a number of reasons, including health and safety concerns, a recalibrated work/life balance, caregiving needs, and the shifting work environment.
There were initially concerns that this uptick in retirement would permanently alter the composition of the workforce, but about 1.5 million retirees have re-entered the workforce within the last year. Rising costs due to inflation are a major factor driving their return, but other factors are contributing as well, including decreasing health and safety concerns, increased flexibility with work arrangements, higher wages, and a labor market that is desperate for workers.
The Washington Post reports that, as they struggle to fill open roles, some companies are actively targeting un-retirees and older workers in their recruitment strategies, posting jobs at seniors centers, churches, and websites geared towards older workers, such as workforce50.com.
There’s really never been a better time for older workers to embrace change and seek new challenges.
The Myth Of Older Workers And Tech
The myth that older people aren’t as tech savvy as younger people is just that: A myth.
According to a piece by Alison DeNisco Rayome at TechRepublic, studies show that workers aged 55 and up find using tech less stressful than their younger colleagues and are also more adept at juggling multiple devices at the same time.
The demographics of the tech sector also contribute to this myth. As DeNisco Rayome points out, the youthful median age in the tech industry and the perception that older workers can’t learn new skills, especially tech-based skills, means that many people just assume that older workers and tech aren’t a good fit.
There is nothing further from the truth. Older workers can learn tech-based skills, including coding, to make a career change at any age.
Why Transition To Tech?
There has long been a shortage of qualified tech workers in the United States and, despite the mass layoffs in that sector that are dominating the news, the shortage persists. Constricted immigration policies, higher-than-expected retirement rates, and persistent caregiving issues mean that fewer workers are available for open roles – and job growth continues even in the face of economic uncertainty.
To address this shortage, many employers are eliminating traditional job qualifications, such as a college degree. They are more widely coming to recognize that tech workers, in particular, may have gained their skills through non-traditional pathways, including:
- Community colleges;
- Technical schools;
- Software boot camps;
- Certification programs;
- Apprenticeships and internships; and
- Independent learning.
This shift means that it has become easier for people to learn coding and other tech-based skills in their spare time so that they can transition to a career in tech.
Workers over the age of 40 may have some concerns about launching an entirely new career. Fears about leaving an established career to start fresh, worries about ageism in hiring, the lack of time to pursue learning, and just generally not knowing where to start the transition process can hinder older workers from pursuing new career goals.
But, as Laurence Bradford, the creator of the blog Learn to Code With Me, points out, there are several compelling reasons why older workers should learn coding and consider transitioning to a tech career, including:
- The value of tech skills, which may open doors with your existing employer and which can be applied across a variety of sectors;
- The possibility of increased earnings, since tech workers are in high demand and companies pay well in order to attract and retain talent;
- More job opportunities in general, making it easier to land a job;
- The flexible work environments for many tech jobs as well as the possibility of picking up contract work that excites you and fits your schedule;
- Career security and mobility, given the wide demand for tech workers; and
- The ability to contribute to meaningful change through innovative projects.
The high demand for tech skills, the opportunities within the sector, and the flexibility inherent in many tech roles make tech a terrific career option for everyone, including older workers.
How To Transition Into The Tech Field
While a career in tech is appealing for several reasons, and well worth striving for, it will take some effort. In addition to choosing a niche and learning the required skills, you may need to be persistent in order to overcome ageism and land the job of your dreams.
Choose Your Niche
As an older worker, you bring a wealth of experience to the table. Many of the skills that you’ve spent a few decades honing are transferable to the tech sector.
Technology is a diverse field and as tech becomes more ubiquitous, it keeps shifting and expanding. As Bradford points out in her piece on making a midlife career change, “There are so many different paths you can take within the tech world—it’s not just developers or designers. Examples include: UX design, data analysis, cybersecurity, technical writing, DevOps, no-code development, etc.”
In general, there are four broad areas within the tech sector to explore:
- Coding (e.g., Python and Java, HTML, CSS);
- System administration (e.g., cloud computing or network administration);
- Data science, machine learning, and AI; and
- DevOps (deploying applications and software to the real world).
Take time to explore the different niches within tech to see if any might be able to make use of your existing skill set or if any spark your passions. If you find the process overwhelming or if you just can’t decide, there are workshops like Find Your Fit that can help you narrow things down.
Explore Free Learning Opportunities
The web is jam packed with free learning opportunities. While these can be a stepping stone to more immersive, paid courses and workshops, they are also an excellent way to get a feel for a particular niche in tech, or a particular programming language, and see if it’s a good fit for you.
Before jumping into an expensive coding bootcamp, try a few coding tutorials to see which option appeals the most to you.
Learn Your New Skill Set
Once you know which area of tech you want to specialize in, it’s time for immersive learning in order to develop your needed skill set. Although self-learning is possible, attending a bootcamp or pursuing a certification will give you credentials that employers will value when you apply for jobs.
As we outline in our blog, 8 Tips To Help You Land Your First Tech Job, bootcamps are short, intensive training programs that focus on a specific area of tech, such as coding, UX/UI design, cybersecurity, data analytics, or digital marketing. They are immersive in nature and many require about four months of full-time study to complete. The average cost is about $13,584. While that is significantly less than the cost associated with a computer science degree, the cost is a good reason why it’s best to start exploring free courses and workshops, to ensure that you choose a niche that is a good fit.
Certifications are often the first thing that tech recruiters and hiring managers look for on a resume. There are lots of entry-level certifications available to pursue once you know which area of tech you would like to specialize in. They can often be obtained through self-paced study and are usually more reasonably priced than bootcamps. Sarah K. White helpfully lists the best certifications for beginners to pursue in her blog at CIO.
Dust Off Your Resume
While the tech sector is desperate for qualified workers, ageism remains a very real issue across all sectors. For that reason, it’s best to take a few extra steps to eliminate references to your age on your resume.
In a terrific piece at Monster, Dawn Papandrea suggests polishing your resume by:
- Using contemporary language and resume styles;
- Focussing on your career accomplishments in the last 10-15 years;
- Avoiding references to your age by removing dates of graduation;
- Showing that you know the latest industry trends, jargon, and buzzwords;
- Providing an email address with a current domain like Gmail rather than an outdated domain like Hotmail; and
- Listing the specific tech skills, knowledge, and languages that you are adept with.
It’s always best to have a second set of eyes check your resume for typos and errors but when it comes to a resume that is intended to launch a whole new career, it might be best to reach out to professionals at a resume writing service for feedback.
Steel Yourself For Ageism
It’s unfortunate but ageism does exist. As summarized in a piece at Forbes, 60% of respondents to a survey indicated that they have encountered ageism and of that group, 74% reported experiencing ageism in their job search. And that’s not just a perception on the part of the job seekers. Another survey reports that 40% of hiring managers admit to reviewing resumes with age bias and 80% of those managers further admit to having concerns around hiring employees who are older than 60.
Going into your job search with knowledge that ageism will likely happen will help you prepare. As suggested above, polish your resume to remove references to your age. Be prepared for inappropriate age-related questions in job interviews, such as, “How long do you intend to remain in the workforce?” Also, keep an eye out for age-friendly employers. The Certified Age Friendly Employer (CAFE) program identifies those employers with age-friendly policies but your network can help you identify workplaces that are age-friendly as well.
Transitioning to a new career in mid or later life can be both daunting and exciting, especially when it comes to a field like tech where it’s necessary to pick up an entirely new set of skills and knowledge. However, the tech sector remains a terrific choice if you are contemplating change because of the number of opportunities, the possibility of increased earnings, the flexible work environment, and new personal and career challenges that can be exciting to scale.