'Wider work and life experience': why the tech sector needs to recruit mature workers

By Sean Hargrave

Government figures predict that by 2020 nearly one in three, or 30%, of workers will be aged 50 or over. This means retraining is almost certainly going to be required, if skills acquired decades ago are going to be refreshed so people have the chance to change direction and have a second or third career.

Rather than see this as an obstacle, Debbie Forster believes that, along with attracting a more gender-balanced intake of school and university leavers, the tech industry will find retraining people midway through their careers can fill the current skills gap. Forster is CEO of the Tech Talent Charter, a not-for-profit organisation that encourages tech companies to share best practice on achieving a gender and age-balanced approach to recruitment.

“Employers need to be open to hiring both women and men who are returning to work after career breaks, as well as existing workers of any age who want a second or even a third career,” she says.

Forster makes the point that gender and age diversity in a tech team makes economic sense. According to Harvard Business Review, companies with a diverse workforce are 45% as likely to improve market share and 70% more likely to be successful in capturing new markets.

“If you can help ‘tech up’ these people, you won’t just have people with great tech skills, you’ll have people with wider work and life experience that they can put to work for your company.”

Jenny Pattinson is a case in point. When she was advising FTSE 100 clients on tax issues and contracts as a high-flyer in the city, she never dreamed of a career in tech. That was until her husband became ill and later went blind. The long hours of such a senior role were only going to get more demanding, so she decided to change career.

Due to her husband having served in the Royal Navy she qualified for the Amazon Web Services ReStart scheme. It offers former services personnel – and their partners – training in tech and help finding a job.

Pattinson completed the four-week course, which led to a trainee role working in development operations for Centrica’s Hive remote central heating system. She has now risen to security risk and governance manager.

“I loved computers as a child, but did humanities subjects at school and university, so I think I’m proof you can retrain and learn new skills,” she says.

“There are so many women who have so much to offer, but have put their careers on hold to raise families or support spouses.”

Many women seeking a new direction to their career after maternity leave will empathise with Barbara Clarkson. Her South African qualifications were not valid in the UK and so she worked at charities while raising a young family. Online research led her to the Supermums programme, run by software company Salesforce, in partnership with Economic Change – an organisation devoted to helping charities get more out of tech.

“I was at home, bored on maternity leave and just knew I could do more in my career, so training up for a role in IT was really appealing,” she says.

“It took six months of part-time study, but I ended up actually getting a job at Economic Change, the charity behind the scheme. I’m now advising charities across the country on how to set up and customise their customer relationship management software,” adds Clarkson. “It’s a totally new direction I wouldn’t have previously thought possible.”