I am often asked if older workers in Australia are able to cope with digital platforms, online technologies, apps and the like. It’s an interesting question, as the patterns are not uniform. Here’s some of what we know:

  • there is some evidence that ‘old old’ Aussies use online platforms less, which makes sense. These are people in their 80s or more – though many do use Facebook to stay in touch with family. However, their capacity to learn is undeniable – the marvellous documentary ‘Cyberseniors’  will quickly dispel any residual doubts about this (it ends with an hilarious YouTube video competition between the 80- and 90-something participants…).
  • with the ‘young old’ (people in their 50s and 60s) there is very little gap in mainstream workplace digital capacity and certainly no gap in the ability to pick up new tools, though learning styles may differ.
  • there is a growing trend for retirees to learn coding and sell their services on platforms like Freelancer and Airtasker, which shows they can learn digital and sell their skills in a competitive market
  • a recent study showed that older business start ups (people over 50) were very keen to leverage online technologies for running and marketing their businesses.

So, if you feel there’s a gap in your confidence or capabilities in this area, not to worry. There are plenty of good courses around, some of which are run by councils and are free or reasonably priced. Or find a friend or relative who can give you some practical tips and hands-on help.

If you are looking to change jobs, it’s true that some younger recruiters do assume that older workers can’t do digital. It’s good to gently deal with this misconception by, for example, bringing your smartphone to the interview and just placing it on the desk, or including some online courses in your resume.

Whatever the state of the digital divide now, it is closing rapidly as the years go by. Perhaps of more concern is the gap in digital literacy and access between rich and poor, but that’s another subject…

Joanna Maxwell


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