21st Century Skills are not Just for the Young

I am an avid believer in the need for lifelong learning. It seems that the Canadian federal government in its latest budget has started to allocate some additional funding to this prospect, allowing unemployed people to perhaps collect EI while taking retraining courses, previously if you decided to go to school you were no longer entitled to EI as you were “Technically” no longer available for work. I happen to think that this is a great idea, and with the expectation that a lot of current jobs are in danger of automation in the next 10 years or so, this makes sense to allow laid off people the opportunity to re-train for the new economy jobs.

I think however this needs to go further, jobs, and the technology required to perform the jobs are changing so fast. Now I don’t qualify as Digital Native, I was born a bit before the Millennial Generation, but I did see the start of it all with the TRS80 desktop computer in about 1977, ( I was 10 years old). I learned coding in “Basic”, “Pascal”, and the very first spreadsheet program “VisaCalc” in High school, and had good enough marks to exempt me from first year computer science in University. I used my Universities’ Main Frame computer to word process my term papers in 1986. I had my first desktop computer in 1991 running Windows 3.0. In my early employment years, I mastered a lot of technology “on the job”, and in the 1990’s I was almost always the designate computer geek for my employer for hardware and network support in addition to my other duties as most of the companies that I worked for were too small to have IT departments. I have done very well to keep up on my software up until the last couple of years it has become more difficult. As software moves to the cloud, it is no longer a two-year upgrade cycle, some software can have new update releases almost daily.

I will add that a few years ago I switched to an Apple computing environment, and then I became self-employed and ran my business on those Apple Computers. At the same time Microsoft and the PC Environments moved to Windows 8, then 10, & 365 Cloud based OS. Now back in a work environment I am struggling. While I know, it is important to keep up with technology it is one thing to know what you should be doing and another thing to be able to do so with a Wife, Family, Young Kids, Mortgage, and Full-time Job, and somehow age also seems to impact learning and retention. The problem is that in most small businesses, there are no training dollars, nor time allocated to up-skilling, and this presents a problem, how do you keep your job if you can’t keep up with the technology?

Let’s look at deeper aspect of this. This is something that I have been working through in the past couple of years as well as I have tried to re-direct my career into something a bit more focused on IT skills, even though I have not formally worked in IT, but as I have already said, I did informally do some of this work, and I was reasonably successful at it.

What about those who have been totally displaced by technology and need significant retraining / re-skilling, I’ll go one step further to say that they need a whole new career, or at least that a whole new career may be a better choice forward. How do we as a society support these individuals through a mid-life career change. Further how do we support these individuals through the employment process given that there certainly are age related biases when it comes to technology workers. If you are over 45 and even if you have worked your whole life in an IT related position, you may have reached your expiry date if you find yourself unfortunate enough to be laid off. What about, and how do we get the newly minted 45 or 50-year-old person their first job in an IT related field? A field that is filled with competitive labor that may not have family commitments and can reside on the company premises during projects nearly 24/7 by using the company nap pods? I welcome your comments on these thoughts.

Les Brown is a writer, commentator on technology, a Futurologist, Writes for the “Age of Disruption”, Social Media Manager & Business Consultant.