Are Stereotypes Messing Up Our Training Strategies?

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article ostensibly designed to be of help to job seekers who might be facing discrimination. As a middle-aged female IT professional who has been participating in social media sites since they were called “bulletin-board systems,” I can’t help but observe that the illustration chosen for the article, which shows us a middle-aged, gray-haired woman looking cowed in a maelstrom of social media logos and mobile digital devices, is a strong expression of certain prejudices held by WSJ Editorial staff!

This notion, that young people are naturally adept with technology, and older folks less so, really needs to die.

The reality is that almost all of us can and do learn to use the technology we need to accomplish the tasks we want to get done.  The woman featured in the article sought a job in public relations.  I happen to know more than a few middle-aged women in public relations, and they are all  up to speed on social media and the hardware used to create for it.  Because, you know, they need to be, in order to be effective in their jobs!

Meanwhile, we do our young colleagues a disservice when we assume that their facility with Facebook and Twitter should automatically translate into adeptness with our corporate systems for customer relations management.

It probably would not be a bad idea to test on intake new employees’ facility with tools like Word and Excel.  We might want to include checking their facility with Sharepoint, Salesforce and other commonly used corporate cloud applications.  Taking a baseline and then filling in gaps would help us get our new folks up and running quickly, and avoid wasting their time, and ours, with training they don’t actually need.

But we should probably assume complete unfamiliarity with all of our proprietary systems, and make effective training available to all newcomers to these technologies. And possibly keep our eyes open wide to who catches on quickly, and who needs more time. Because age is not now, and has never been, a particularly good predictor of facility with tools needed to get the job done.