Are you too old to be in IT?

A federal agency will spend $3 million to allow a Canadian university to explore global attitudes towards age in the IT sector.

The University of Western Ontario Tuesday said its four-year study, Workforce Aging in the New Economy,

was among four projects to receive funding from an over-arching grant facilitated by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). The study includes three phases and begins with a compilation of demographic data comparing IT workers in Canada, the United States, Australia and the European Union. The research team will then conduct 16 case studies of four organizations in each region as the second phase. Development of best practices for the human resources industry will complete the project.

Julie McMullin, a professor in Western’s department of sociology and the study’s leader, said the research will examine discrimination based on age, gender, race and ethnicity as well as the career path for older IT workers. McMullin said she wants to put the spotlight on those outside the young, white males who are commonly associated with technology.

“”That deals with the school-to-work transition rather well but it doesn’t deal with some of the other transitions workers face, such as having babies and getting ill and possibly having to go on disability,”” she said. “”We’re just going to be getting baseline information about what IT looks like.””

IDC Canada’s training and careers analyst, Julie Kaufman, said the project could fill some information gaps on ageism and IT.

“”I don’t know of anything that’s been done,”” she said, apart from government-focused work that looked at the number of Canadian immigrants who get technology jobs. “”That’s not primary research, that’s just a thesis that’s been proven by data that exists, and that data isn’t very detailed or complex.””

McMullin said she hopes the study will inform employers, governments and employees about policies that will enable workers to have control of their jobs and secure good opportunities. This will involve identifying good examples of retraining programs for older workers, and educating younger staff about the value they bring to the marketplace. “”You have to remember that older workers in this context is defined as 45 and over,”” she said. “”We’re not talking about senior citizens here.””

Kaufman said IDC has done its own research about IT employee’s attitudes that showed fears and insecurities about their futures.

“”A lot of new IT professionals coming into the field are worried about the longevity of their career, the ability to keep up with their skill sets,”” she said. “”Some of the answers very much were, ‘We may have to go to the United States,’ to find the kind of jobs they’re looking for: senior positions beyond doing programming all day.””

McMullin said she will be looking to the school’s business partners, including the Software Human Resource Council and the Information Technology Association of Canada, to find candidates for her case studies.

The SSHRC also offered grants to two projects at the University of Toronto and one at York University. Funding for all four teams will total $10 million, while the government’s entire investment in the Initiative for the New Economy will total $100 million.

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