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Afraid of losing your job to a younger, cheaper IT worker?

How older workers can keep their high-priced jobs in a recession

By , Network World
April 06, 2009 12:03 AM ET

Network World - You've been in the IT industry for 30 years, gaining knowledge and experience that's valuable to you and your employers at every step. Now we're in a recession and a new crop of younger, perhaps techier, and definitely less expensive employees are entering the workforce. Should you be worried about losing your job? (See five things Gen Yers can do to survive recession.)

Story on the top 10 tech skills.

It's a fair question, but asking it doesn't mean resigning oneself to getting laid off. There are plenty of advantages older IT workers bring to the table that can help ensure they stay employed through the recession and beyond.

"You need to consider the value you bring to the organization that a younger person might not, and in particular you need to think about how can you be a resource to help develop the younger members of the staff," says Jim Michael, a 51-year-old who is associate director of IT at California State University, Fresno.

Generally, CIOs want their staffs to contain diversity in technical backgrounds, skills, personality and sometimes in age, Michael says. A CIO probably wouldn't want an entirely young staff, because the experience of older workers can help the young avoid the same problems faced in the senior employees' youth. A staff made up entirely with people who have 30 or 40 years experience is a problem too, particularly if company officials are thinking about the long term and want younger workers to learn from their elders and eventually replace them. (See a story about how the younger generation is spoiled.)

Learning about new technologies like virtualization and cloud computing will help the older worker stay relevant. But mentoring the younger set about what you already know is also an important method of showing value to your company. "My advice to older colleagues is don't guard your knowledge," Michael says. "Don't protect the special things you know so you can continue to have a different level of value to the organization. Share them, because in fact that's even more valuable."

Age discrimination has long been a problem in the workplace, but with the economy in turmoil accusations of age discrimination are becoming more common. The number of individuals filing age discrimination complaints rose from 19,103 in fiscal 2007 to 24,582 in fiscal 2008, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That's a year-over-year increase of 29%, nearly twice the increase observed when all types of job discrimination charges are added together.

Many of these allegations are being lodged in the wake of layoffs, as companies often get rid of the highest-paid staffers to cut costs.

Despite the soaring numbers of age bias complaints, the nation's unemployment rate for young workers is higher than for those older than 40, the Wall Street Journal notes. Workers must be at least 40 to file age-discrimination complaints.

In any case, there are numerous strategies an older worker can use to remain valuable to one's organization and survive a round of layoffs, says Janice Weinberg, a former IT pro and career consultant, and author of "Debugging your Information Technology Career: A Compass to New and Rewarding Fields that Value Computer Knowledge." 

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