How do you tell when an ‘older’ person (like me) is using technology?
A few years into my career, working at IBM in financial planning, I received one of the best pieces of advice ever: “Never stop learning, particularly when it comes to technology”. I had earned an undergraduate degree in information systems and spent the first few years out of college as a programmer (the old person’s term for a software developer). Given that I was very technical at the time, I didn't think too much of it.
Conversely, my assigned IBM mentor had 35 years with the company. He was the hardest working person I’ve ever met. He literally never took sick days or vacations. While I don’t recommend that for anyone, his level of dedication to his job and IBM was unmatched and garnered full respect. It also produced a few “how in the hell do you do that?!” comments from others.
However, even with all those years under his belt, he fell behind the times from a technology perspective. Spreadsheets were becoming commonplace. Email was well established. Other technical changes abounded simultaneously. And put that in context of IBM, at the time, the king of the tech world. It was ironic that, with all of his experience and wisdom, my mentor was unable to fully leverage those assets because he couldn’t pair them with technology. He was still a pencil and paper guy - and it worked for him. However, it didn’t work in the overall context of the company or at the speed at which we were changing.
My mentor and I had a tight bond from the start. He treated me as part of his family from day one, and taught me everything he possibly could about financial planning in IBM. And it went beyond work. We were close personally as well, and I had my first lessons on how to flip pizza dough from him. We played intramural hoops together (he had a killer Bob Cousey-like set shot).
In return, I taught him as much as I could about using technologies. One of my counterparts, also fond of him, pulled me aside one day after seeing us work together. His advice, ‘let this be a lesson - never stop learning, especially as technology changes. You can be the most functionally experienced person, however, if you lose pace with technology, you can’t leverage all that experience and wisdom.’
While I didn’t personally need to heed those words at the time, it did stick with me over the years. And I may not be the most adept at the latest technologies out there, I’ve focused on keeping up with pertinent ones that impact my work and life. And admittedly, it gets harder by the day with the current pace of change. At work alone, I use 18 apps for sales and marketing. There are also all the other apps I use for HR, finance, etc.
This leads me, again, to the Industrial Athletes out there over age 55. As a group, we’re typically far removed from the latest technology trends that our younger counterparts use daily. The younger Industrial Athletes grew up learning in different ways, and in particular, learning through technologies. Advantage young workers. The reverse can be a disadvantage to older workers. Yet, it can also be turned into an advantage.
As I wrote in my last blog, the growing population of older workers will continue through the next couple of decades. I’ll throw a few more statistics into the mix:
Average rate of projected growth for the United States labor market from 2016 through 2026:
To ensure you are helping this demographic be as productive as possible, you need to support them through enablement and training. That alone poses its own challenges. In addition to the challenges of motivating the aging Industrial Athlete, and supporting the way they work, you also need to address the challenge of technology when training the aging Industrial Athlete.
While we may be reticent to jump into a new technology, if done the right way, we'll take it and run! These stats tell us that technology has a high potential for helping these workers successfully extend their working days, months and years. At the same time, there can be significant barriers to successfully deploying these technologies. Let’s take a look a the pros:
Every environment is increasingly reliant on technology. Regardless of your workforce’s age, they will need to embrace technology to be productive and successful. When deployed successfully, technologies help address potential age related problems including memorization, physical capacities, mobility and visual or hearing capabilities. There is often a positive impact on potential discrimation, extending training options, teamwork and team building opportunities.
(Source: PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)
When The Who came out with the song My Generation, they were talking about the youth of their day. If Pete and crew were to write that song from scratch today, it would probably be about being in the older generation. I’d bet there would also be a verse or two cursing technology.
People try to log us on (talkin' 'bout my generation)
Everything we click, seems to be wrong (talkin' 'bout my generation)
Things they do look awful strange (talkin' 'bout my generation)
They’re certainly gonna try to make me change (talkin' 'bout my generation)
This is my generation
This is my generation, baby
Technology advancement and introduction can be a challenge, as well as present new problems if not done with consideration of the users.
Problems range from reluctance to try the unfamiliar, to frustration with the first signs of “Alexa, why isn’t this working”, to usability issues related to poor eyesight or fumbling fingers (I squint a lot and have had Essential Tremors since age of 30 - bad combination for small devices, trust me). This potential combination can lead to low engagement and reduced acceptance and usage of technologies, which are intended to help.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Like training a puppy, humans have motivations that we can leverage. In doing so, we can overcome these challenges and get great solutions into the hands of every worker, regardless of age.
Specifically for the older pups in the room, here are 5 suggestions, the “Five A’s” that will help overcome these barriers:
Don’t assume everyone is equal and that the tech is one size fits all. As well, don’t assume that my age brings with it an automatic set of challenges to use technology, such as sight, hearing or cognitive impairment. Everyone is unique from day one, and has their own specific challenges. That doesn’t change as we age.
Just as in any new introduction of a program or process, getting buy-in up front from relevant groups, including older folks, increases the odds of engagement. A great way to get that buy-in is to ask for my input on the program as you design it. Not only will that motivate me, but I can also be the poster child for my peers. And with that engagement, you will get the results you’re looking to attain in your investments.
When possible and feasible, adjust the technologies for my challenges. I often am mocked by friends and family because of the font size I use on my iphone (I’m the worst about carrying readers). Go to Settings - Accessibility on an iPhone and you’ll see many options to accommodate hearing, sight and other challenges of using that device. Use similar considerations in your technology.
This is obviously good practice for any new introduction for a process or technology. Use micro learning to help me learn and retain the information. 5-minute videos on a regular cadence have been proven to be more effective than traditional classroom training done in bulk. Even better, take the time to use a mixed model approach - online with in-person practice - to get even more value out of the training.
You may be surprised to know that I might well be interested in taking a leadership role in the new technology. Or if it’s existing technology and I’m new to the role, a leadership role motivates me to engage with my team and organization. At Worklete, we use Social Learning as a way to incorporate peer to peer learning. We’ve found that it’s also a great way for someone to boost their confidence in our program, as well as using the technology.
Workforces evolve constantly. Employees 55 and older are here to stay and will continue to grow. Technology is a great way to enhance our productivity. By focusing on more tenured workers and taking the time to address the challenges of learning, using and coaching technology, everyone will be a winner!