Poor Training, Lack of Skills Leave Older Workers Behind: Study

A new study from Docebo suggests professionals across the world want to learn skills to help them at work… but the training just isn’t there.

Baby Boomers are most affected: 40 percent of older pros in the United Kingdom and 28 percent in the U.S. feel they “don’t have the skills needed to win a new job.” When asked to compare themselves to younger professionals, nearly half of all Baby Boomers felt those younger than them had better tech skills.

It’s not imagined, either. Professionals don’t feel they’re getting training. From Docebo:

Modern workers are feeling the pressure to skill-up, with one in three working Americans (32 percent) and working Brits (33 percent) saying they feel pressure to learn new tech-related skills to protect their jobs. Nearly half (49 percent) of workers in both countries believe training in using new technology would help them increase their chances of a promotion or raise. However, one in four working Americans (21 percent) and Brits (22 percent) don’t feel they have the necessary tech skill sets to position themselves as an experienced candidate for a new role.

Though this study isn’t unique to tech professionals, it doesn’t exclude them – and there are similar findings within tech. We routinely see that skills and pay are linked, with some unique skills adding thousands of dollars to your annual income.

But randomly learning skills doesn’t always put you ahead. A HackerRank study shows traditional education has a deep skills gap; students often learn older languages in the classroom, but not the skills and frameworks employers actually need.

You can always learn on your own, but that comes with its own set of red flags and challenges. We’ve identified many platforms that do a good job, but just as many websites (as well as bootcamps or vocational schools) have questionable results in terms of prepping professionals for the workplace.

And there’s also a catch-22 with learning new skills, at least for employers. Results from a Dice Insights survey detail how employees want to learn new skills more than anything. But they also want to quit their jobs after learning those skills. The investment by an employer may lead to professionals vacating their positions as a result of obtaining new abilities and being better prepared for the jobs market.

Skills Gap

Apple CEO Tim Cook famously lauded skills over education, but it’s not as easy as it sounds for tech professionals (especially older ones) to get what they need in terms of education and training, especially if the skills in question aren’t well-established. For example, Golang is a top-paying tech skill in 2019, but it’s relatively new.

Another survey shows even “old” skills like DevOps and Python are increasingly in-demand from employers. That suggests companies aren’t finding (for instance) Python developers who meet their requirements; nor are they investing in additional training. That’s bad news for older tech professionals who have the aptitude to learn, but aren’t being served adequately by their employers.

Ideally, employers should be investing in talent so deeply it creates a ‘snake eating its own tail’ scenario, where the result is a ton of super-skilled pros who end up teaching others. Instead, tech professionals are left to fend for themselves… and it’s affecting older professionals harshly.

26 Responses to “Poor Training, Lack of Skills Leave Older Workers Behind: Study”

  1. wageSlave

    This article is correct in one aspect. It’s not as easy as it sounds for tech professionals to get what “they need” in terms of education and training. Talking points for resume building to meet the expectations of the tech recruiter’s future checklists can be very expensive and a hard target to hit. Of all the labor sectors, tech’s constantly churning learning curves are one of the most expensive realities that a tech worker must eat. Staying on the bleeding edge requires time and time is money. A thousand hours a year to stay employed is $35,000 in lost opportunity costs to a $35 dollar an hour employee. The higher your salary the more expensive the learning curve becomes. Try and explain this reality to the spoiled one year old CEO’s having tantrums screaming they cannot find qualified candidates at the price they are offering minus recruiter commissions. The responsibility is all on the tech worker and that is why they are billionaires.

    Older tech workers know the futility of the bleeding edge. Most have resumes full of technology that is no longer relevant and they are constantly told that it is their fault they let their skills laps. How many people out there have four or more technologies of the day on their resumes that never bared fruit in terms of a return in investment? Time, money, and effort that was lost as technology shifted to a new technology of the day.

    The lucky ones are making less than they did ten years ago and are grateful to be currently employed at age 50. Wisdom is knowing the extent of one’s ignorance and the instant gratification millennials are starting out wiser than the boomers did. Ideas like chasing the bleeding edge that don’t provide a return are quickly discarded. Millennials know that truth is treason in the empire of lies.

  2. Bob Goldman

    Wonderful! Good ole American blame the victim strategy! As a developer for over 3 decades, I have more “skills” under my belt than I could care for. Hiring managers are the worst people to make hiring decisions when it comes to tech. Unlike in other professions, experience and education in the tech sector has no value in favor of buzzwords on your resume and how you perform on whiteboard interviews. The appalling quality of today’s software is the consequence of this trend.

    Software development isn’t a “skill”, its a finely honed discipline and craft just like architecture, machining, engineering and medicine. Hiring a developer solely based on their knowledge of some flavor of the month technology, is akin to hiring a furniture maker on based on what brand of hammer they use. Likewise, hiring a developer solely based on their performance on technical trivia on a whiteboard, is akin to hiring the same furniture maker based on how many nails they can pound down within a minute if front of furniture assembly line workers.

    When I see the tools, languages, libraries and frameworks used today and heralded as better than the invention of sliced bread, my laughs and chuckles quickly turn into cries when I realize how little innovation has occured over the past 3 decades. I was developing MVC style applications in the late 80s and JSON is really a resource format (rc or rez files) stripped of it’s strong type information. The vast and bewildering choices of competing JavaScript frameworks tells me that JavaScript/CSS/HTML is fundamentally broken and needs to be scrapped entirely. We had and still have superior document layout methods and sadly they work so well, few of developers are aware of them. Postscript is ubiquitous in offices, homes, print shops and businesses for many decades, yet I have only met 1 Postscript programmer. This is a testament to its quality. Its relatively recent counterpart and infintely less capable HTML/CSS, on the otherhand, has created millions of coders who struggle to keep it working.

    Older seasoned developers bring a lot more to the table. They have gained insights into the art of software development rarely found in younger developers. They can forsee the consequences of a particular implementation based not solely on book knowledge, but from gained experience. It also makes them quick learners. Moreover, the more programming you’ve done, the better quality of code you produce.

    I feel frustrated and sad when I hear about developers in their 50s describe the rejection they face in the job market. I’m talking about folks who are responsible for some of the most amazing software products we’ve seen to date.

    • Jacqueline Williams

      I agree, It is hard for a Older individual to be classified as an Expert. You have the younger generation that know only the book side of.
      Technology, and have very little knowledge of how processes evolve.

      That is why you find software that is purchased, implemented, and the dropped. Due to a flaw that may, have been recognized sooner.

    • Appalling software is right! The amount of garbage code that I have witnessed in my career is enough to choke an i7 processor. What ever happened to modularity? I constantly see methods that run on for hundreds of lines. There are never any file headers. Function headers, if they exist, are either incomplete or are so pithy that they are useless. And code commenting? That’s about as rare as a full solar eclipse. With this big push to agile development, documentation has gone the way of the Buffalo. Don’t these people know that the most time consuming part of the software life cycle is the last phase, maintenance and upgrades? With no documentation to complement your code, you’re just asking for trouble.

    • M. Saleski

      This is so true. I had an interview a couple of years ago (and let me preface this by saying that I’d mostly been working with realtime healthcare device software, c++) at a place that was doing web-based presentation/analytics of their data. I had worked on a couple of web-based projects in the past, although not recently.

      All of the people I spoke to had to be at least 20 years younger than myself (at 55). When I talked about what I’d worked on, none of them knew about fairly basic constructs like state machines, singletons, etc. But hey, maybe they don’t need that.

      The interviews seemed to go well enough but then they wanted me to do a “skills test.” So on one particular day I was email the assignment. It was to read some json data from a webserver, and format it in a particular way. Basically, a fairly simple web app.

      Since I had no experience with modern web frameworks, I just used javascript to generate the web page based on the data. It was a simple(ish) table format that didn’t have a whole lot of functionality besides sorting and maybe some formatting related to data types. Anyway, I got the job done.

      They ended up passing me up because they were “looking for someone with more base web development experience.”

      Right, like they didn’t know that just by looking at my resume. It felt like ageism to me.

      The good news is that part of the reason I was attracted to the place was that it was a small shop. And not longer after this experience, they were swallowed by a huge company.

      In any event, it’s kind of a sad thing. Like after all of these years I wouldn’t be able to figure out how to use Angular or whatever.

    • The hammer analogy is particularly apt. What should be added to it is “You haven’t picked up that hammer in the last 5 minutes? You must have forgotten how to use it by now!” Once you learn a few imperative or OO languages, they both start to blur together if it’s not the language you’re working in at the moment, and they are easily picked up again when they become the language du jour. The concepts are what counts, not the flavor.

  3. Gary K. Nitzberg

    Nate, I have to disagree with you. Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can find many sources for online training. All the Ivy League schools offer free technical courses as well as a variety of great tutorials on Youtube from thousands of independents.

    Understand that older workers skills are structured differently. I’m in my 60s and have been writing code for 40 years. The problem is that most companies do not know how to properly evaluate the skills of an older worker. Companies evaluate skills of older workers as if they were just getting out of school or have less than 5 years of professional experience. My typical interview for a development job is receiving a battery of questions from a 20 something who was taught that is the way to conduct an interview. When you’re 60 years old your recall skills are weaker and it may take a little longer to recall the information. What would work better is giving an older candidate a problem to solve, more or less a take home test. This is a more realistic scenario and parallels the typical work environment. No one drills an employee with questions after you start a job.

    Secondly, many older workers have experience and skills that are not testable. It is true that years of experience do give older workers an advantage once they are in a working environment and up to the syntactical level of their coworkers. Concepts take a really long time to learn and relearning occurs about four times faster! I have been in situations where I had not worked with a technology for 5 years and in a few day would be up to par with my coworkers with just a minimal review.

    What the industry needs are well skilled managers that are trained as manager and do not get promoted from engineering positions via attrition. Managers need to learn how to utilize workers properly. Thirty years ago there was a saying I would here all the time “A good engineer can do anything.”

  4. I agree with most of what everybody has said in their comments and Nate’s article too. I admittedly find myself in this boat. I would love to learn some new stuff on my own, but which ones? I might spend months learning something only to find out that I should have learned something else instead. There is too much that I don’t know! And then when you read the job postings, they all have a unique laundry list of requirements that you must have to get the job. Just think about all of the technologies out there. What are the odds that you’re going to have the requisite experience in every one of them? This year I have been a good match for multiple jobs, like an 80% match. In every case, the recruiter has come back to me telling me that the employer wants to know about my experience with the item in the laundry list with which I have had no experience. They (employers) focus on how to discount you rather than what you can bring to the table. Even their “nice to have” items are really “must have” ones. Since I don’t lie, so ended my chances for any of those jobs. Their rationale is that the perfect candidate will eventually apply so they’ll just wait for him/her. Oh, one other thing. Hiring managers do not think it is possible for experienced engineers to learn anything new. If you don’t already know it before the interview, there’s no way you can pick it up after you start the job. How else can you explain their behavior?

    I have interviewed many people for many jobs in my career. I have never asked experienced engineers to answer technical questions like “what is a stack”, nor have I asked them to write code on a white board or take a test. I am insulted when interviewers do that to me and I let them know it. What the hell do they think I’ve been doing for the last 20 years? Rather, I asked these candidates philosophical questions about the job, delving in to their experiences and opinions on various topics. If a guy who has worked for five years at Lockheed Martin doing java development is being interviewed by me for a java engineering job, I know that he can write java code. What I don’t know about are his ideas of proper software development strategies, what he prefers and what he dislikes, and his experiences with working with certain tools. If he couldn’t write java code he would not have lasted for five years at Lockheed Martin! I’m not going to insult him with coding questions! But alas, this is what the hiring teams do nowadays. Many of them are uber-geeks who eat, sleep, and breathe technology and think that everybody else must devote their lives to it. This is especially true with Asian interviewers. They are the nuts and bolts type of people, but when it comes to conveying complex ideas to a non-technical audience, either verbally or in writing, most of them are epic failures. So they focus on only the nuts and bolts.

    Gary Nitzberg is right on the money when he said that companies don’t know how to evaluate older workers. And to Bob Goldman, if you’re reading this, I’d like to buy you a beer! Your comments were spot on!

  5. I agree with the article. I work for a big corporate and getting the training you need is difficult and yes, I can (and do) learn in my free time but the reality is that after work, my free time is very limited and the company really doesn’t want to (pay to) send people on courses. Yes, I’ve seen people train up and leave too so for companies, it can just become a cautious investment point.

    On the points and comments about interviews, I mostly agree however, I definitely see value in asking all developers basic questions at interviews. This may not be the case for you guys but there are many hack-it-together developers out there who have made a career out of copy/paste and haven’t actually got a clue. Or they read a book and say the right things but don’t actually know what they’re saying. They work for big corporates, get comfortable and fool their management that they’re worth something for decades and big corps struggle to get rid of them due to legislation. I know this. I’ve seen it. I’ve worked with it so although there are other ways, I still see value in some interview questions but I’m not going to be reeling off hundreds of them – there’s limited value in that.

  6. Doug_B

    I’m 70 – have an MS in Comp Sci – 1971 – Penn State. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Was able to start a small software company, and had several million in the bank by 1989. Now programming is a grunt job. Stay away. How would you like to be required to spend your spare time learning the language of the week? All of them are the same. Then too corporate IT is filled with nano-managers, deadlines, endless meetings. If you decide to pursue software – have an exit strategy by the time you’re 40.

    • Paul K

      It’s devolved into a poor career choice- people are expected to work extra hours for free, and can’t find a job when they’re over 40. Nobody will hire an ex-IT worker for anything else, because they’re over-qualified, so you can’t find a job inside or outside your field.

      And yet, people entering the field maintain a “It can’t happen to me” attitude.

      • Doug_B

        @Paul “And yet, people entering the field maintain a “It can’t happen to me” attitude.”

        It’s a similar attitude to the Millennials who have incurred a lot of debt to get useless degrees.

        Although there will always be a need for custom programming – a large part of software apps have matured – and there is little need for original development. These app’s are data driven, and allow low level people to configure screens / reports / etc. Add to this, with the advent of the cloud and internet, dba’s, network admins, are being eliminated. IMO we are going back to the mainframe days.

        For the most part computer science has morphed into ‘IT’ – which is glorified troubleshooting windows problems / connectivity between apps / and tending printers.

        The first thing I ask my clients: Is there an app that can do this? The last resort is to develop custom code.

  7. Alan8

    I’m 63 and still employed as a software engineer. My strategy has been to learn solid technologies that don’t get outdated: Mainstream languages like C++ and C#, mathematics, algorithms, optimization, writing clear software.

  8. Steve Naidamast

    I spent 43+ years in IT leaving in 2014 as a senior software engineer.

    This article describes a problem that simply does not exist. It is not the lack of skills that haunt older developers in the job market but their ages.

    In my last position I was employed to be the senior engineer for the development group. As soon as I was hired, the DBA\Business Analayst, a young woman who was actually quite good at her job, immediately went up to Personnel to complain that I was too old to be hired in the company.

    The Reporting Analyst who was hired along with me told me that at her welcome lunch, the DBA went into a tirade against the fact that I as older worker was hired.

    Plenty of older senior developers and engineers have the necessary experience and skills to develop high quality applications and systems. However, corporate America along with many smaller and newer companies want the young people who can mix “better” such youth oriented cultures that the larger companies are pandering to while the smaller ones are created from.

    It is not about ability but about exploitation. Most of the young however, are simply too stupid to realize this but they will as the years roll on…

  9. I am a developer “of a certain age” and I disagree wholeheartedly with the author’s take on this and most of the comments, too. I have people calling me multiple times a day for jobs because I have spent the time and effort keeping up with tech and getting ahead of the curve. It is easier now then ever to keep learning. And most of it is free. Development tools, free cloud space and time, videos everywhere, free databases. All it takes is time. I have kids and other obligations, so I understand time constraints and opportunity costs. The time has more than paid off for me by learning DevOps, Azure, Git, AI, and other technologies. I can run rings around people half my age and I am not any genius, I just work at it. You can’t relax in this field.

    • You are right, Pat, there is a lot out there to help people learn new things. But when there are so many things to learn, which ones do you choose? You can spend months on something, not to mention the money, and never use it on any job. It would be nice if we could be guaranteed a job provided we know technologies A, B, H, L, P, Q, and R, but if you’re missing B and Q and you learn them on your own in order to get that job, the job is gone by the time you learn them and the next job requires A, C, F, G, Q, and R. Now what? Spend more time and money on C and F? The number of technologies, the possible combinations of them, and the flavor of the month change too often. Employers want 100% of their laundry lists fulfilled before offering a position to anyone and don’t believe that people can learn anything needed for the job after being hired. People like me are more than willing to learn new technologies but can’t afford to waste our time and money unless we know ahead of time that we’ll be able to make money from that learning. Life presents us with a lot of things to occupy our spare time, such as exercise, keeping up a home, vacationing, and maintaining friendships. Normal people will use their spare time for those things. The uber-nerds and unsocial types will spend all of their waking moments with their noses in books. When the Grim Reaper comes calling, the nerds are going to regret not enjoying their lives.

      • Bob Goldman

        Luke,

        Don’t worry about the nerds. They are having the time of their lives reading those books.

        Even if you have all the skills on their laundry list (most of which is pure fluff), they want to see them used in your past work experience. Its not uncommon to see job requirements asking for 5 years of experience with a technology that’s less than 2 years old.

        Most corporate hiring managers are usually MBAs who are totally clueless about software development and the necessary skills required to do the job. Instead, they turn to trade journals and go with whatever the current lemming leader says is essential.

        Even though I have 25 years of software development experience and worked on several commercial applications, I am useless in the job market because I don’t have Angular experience.

    • Paul White

      You go from DevOPs to AI in a single bound. Are you a bird? A plane? You’re super employee! I highly doubt you’re on anyone’s call back list. You just listed a bunch of tools and languages which are completely ancillary to working as a software developer. Any employer who is hiring based on tools instead of real programming experience, is beyond incompetent.

      AI? Are you kidding me? Artificial Intelligence is a vast area of research and not something you can make heads or tails without some serious commitment. I guess the same dummies who are hiring you based on how well you can use a hammer are also look for folks who can tell them.

  10. Doug_B

    It’s more than us ‘old guys’ keeping up. It’s the current culture – especially the corporate culture. Most of us older people grew up in a time when manners, listening, more in depth thought, were valued.

    My first job out of grad school was with NASA. They had a ‘personnel’ department. They were friendly, treated you nicely. I was told: “We have three positions – why don’t you see which one you would like best.” None of this suspicion, none of this test bullsh*t, none of the group interviews.

    You didn’t have to know a laundry list of topics. They judged your ability, and the other seasoned people helped you get going.

    Around 1995 this all changed, to what we have today: a semi-hostile work environment with little trust. Employee manuals that are 50 pages of reasons why you can be dismissed. Employees share little info / training with themselves. They want someone with the laundry list of skills because of all the software packages they have purchased, and really don’t know what they need.

    We are a threat. We know the game. We don’t ‘dig’ the Parent / Child BS of their corporate culture. So it’s much better to hire young people that they can play the game with.

    It’s not really about computer science.

  11. Bill_B

    Way back in the late 80’s the faculty of the college I went to asked what courses we wanted to have. I suggested C+. Deer in the headlights looks from the faculty. Also, my request for a senior project to build a network hub was denied. That would have paved the way for constant success but was denied the courses and experience in college they would later add to the curriculum. Faculty have to keep up with the curve or you start flat footed from school.

  12. Don Burr

    I don’t get it… All the same material that the “younger crowd” is available at any age… period. Continuing education/training just takes the will and discipline to do it. In fact because the “older set” has a bigger conceptual base to build on learning should be accelerated. Stop blaming the employers for not providing training. Your career and destiny is YOURS not theirs and its up to you to keep up the training. I spend 6 to 8 hours a week staying “current”. As for what to stay current on… well pick something in the career path you want to follow an just do it.

  13. 2Cents

    “The first-priority in the typical job scenario, whether in the office or elsewhere, is not about profit, productivity or even competence—it is about ‘Egos’. Nothing is more important than defending oneself from the lowest common denominator—unprincipled self-interest! The truth is usually, but not always, cloaked meticulously in pretense and prevarication; other times it is hidden behind a curtain of ignorance. Either way, the work-world is an unabashed, unrelenting, kill-or-be-killed, War—without respite. And that my friends and colleagues is why this day is such a peerless personal joy. Amid a landscape teeming with an overabundance of eager, shameless, and callous, clandestine assassins; I am finally free from this inexorable, excruciating, and stealthily hostile ruse.” So said the candid, high-minded, gray-haired employee at the retirement bash.