Are Older Engineers Being Discriminated Against?

Globally, there will be two billion people aged over 60 years old and older, by 2050. That figure is given to us by the United States government, who use the estimations to build policy around the elderly in their country. How many of these two billion will still be employed in 2050? It is perhaps impossible to say. How many will be let go because of their age? That is also an impossible question to answer. It was George Orwell who famously said: “Each generation perceives itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” Whether current engineering leadership believes that or not, there seems to be a hiring culture that favors younger postgraduates above older engineers. Or at least that is potentially true for Silicon Valley.

Google has been accused of ageism hiring practices in new claims that could see the search engine giant going to court. A judge has called for engineers - of forty years old or older - who unsuccessfully interviewed at Google for employment to testify in a “collective action” case. The judge said that “software engineers, site reliability engineers or systems engineers” who applied for employment in August, and were turned away, should speak up so that an ageism case can be built.

A spokesperson at Google told media: “We believe the allegations here are without merit and we will continue to defend our position vigorously. We have strong policies against discrimination on any unlawful basis, including age.” On Google’s campus, there is allegedly a diversity group - or club - that sees 40 years old and older engineers engaging in social activities. They’re known as the GREYGLERS or ‘Grey Googlers’. When Yahoo Finance requested a report on the median age and gender ratio of Google, the company were reluctant to provide any information.

However, Google is not the only tech company that has seen an ageism suit being filed. At Elon Musk’s Tesla, a 69-year-old engineer is alleging that he was fired because of his age. He is certain that his age played a factor in his dismissal. The 69-year-old Mr. Thomas Flessner said that when he worked at Tesla, he would have to work harder than everyone else because he had to prove that an engineer of his age could compete with the younger engineers. A spokesperson for Tesla told media: “While we aren’t commenting on the specifics of this litigation, we are committed to upholding a discrimination-free workplace.” Other tech companies also embroiled in ageism claims include Microsoft, Twitter, and IBM.

Patricia J. Bronwell and James J. Kelly authored a book named Ageism and Mistreatment of Older Workers: Current Reality, Future Solutions. Their book positions ageism right alongside racial and gender discriminatory practices. They also write about how ageism is a human rights issue. The book references the stance the United Kingdom Department for Work and Pensions took in 2011. They wrote, that in workplaces, equal training needs to be given to all employees “regardless of their age,” and that, training options need to be communicated to every employee. It is perhaps the contravention of this stance that sees older engineers falling behind with the times and getting fired because of their inability to keep up with the technological changes within a company.

This is most apparent in South African telecoms company, Telkom. There seems to be a divide in the education and training of newer technicians versus the older, more experienced technicians. The divide that exists is one that sees the younger employees grappling with and understanding new technologies pertaining to LTE and fiber infrastructure, but, leaving the older technicians oblivious to the newer technologies. For example, once an aged technician is called out to a customer’s house, they could be seeing technology - belonging to the company they work for - that they have never seen in thirty years of working at the company. A lack of adequate training for older technicians means they get left behind.

Although, there are some skills that engineers and technicians could acquire that would keep them afloat in a world where the younger, budding engineer is taking over. The Dean of Engineering here at the Engineering Institute of Technology, Steve Mackay, says that staying employed as an elderly engineer is all about networking. He said: “I often have people - especially in their forties and fifties- saying they’ve applied for jobs, can’t get them, and that they think there is discrimination against us older guys. It’s possibly true, but, one of the amazing things you can do is build up a network of colleagues, friends, whatever. You start doing that when you’re in college or at university and you keep building it up. The network will actually help you get employment or point you towards opportunities.

References
Brownell, Patricia J., and James J. Kelly. Ageism and Mistreatment of Older Workers: Current Reality, Future Solutions. Print.
Numbers, By The. "More Software Engineers over Age 40 May Join a Lawsuit against Google." More Software Engineers over Age 40 May Join a Lawsuit against Google. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.