Too old for IT?

The numbers are in, and they don’t look good for older IT professionals.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, older IT workers have higher rates of unemployment than both younger IT workers and older workers in other professions.

In the category called “computer and mathematical occupations”, the unemployment rate for people aged 55 and older jumped from 6% to 8.4% between 2009 and 2010. During that same period, the unemployment rate dropped for IT workers between 25 and 54 years of age.

What’s really striking about those numbers is that in the overall population, unemployment rates are lower for older workers than for those younger than 55.

So what’s the deal? A combination of factors are involved, say experts. The most obvious is the higher salaries being paid to older IT workers. Why pay a 50-year-old worker $140K when you can get a kid fresh out of college for $60K. Add to that the fact that the college kid is more likely to know the latest technology, has a higher energy level, and is less entrenched in a particular IT mindset, and the decision to hire the younger worker is a no brainer.

It isn’t all doom and gloom. Some IT jobs are safer than others for older workers. Systems architects, project managers, specialized scientific programming, and IT management are less susceptible to age bias than other IT jobs.

So as an IT professional, what should you do as you age to preserve your employability? First and foremost, keep your skills up to date. In addition, experts suggest that you check out management opportunities and take advantage of social networking.  And while you’re young and at the peak of your earning potential, consider saving a hefty part of your salary.

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