Finding it hard to score an IT job after the age of 50? Perhaps even 45?

When former CTO Richard Jones, 57, got sick of bumping heads with 20-something recruiters who wanted tech professionals with experience but didn’t want to hire “old” people, he did something about it.

After reconnecting with former CIO colleague Grant Ure, 61, the two were discussing how they were both trying to get jobs but not getting anywhere.

“We weren’t getting responses from HR for our applications, then we met some more people our own age – and there’s lots of them out there – and we said, ‘clearly there’s a problem with aged workers’,” Jones says.

“If you’re over 45 – even though you may have years of experience – the feedback we were hearing was ‘oh, you’re a little bit too old’, or ‘we want someone younger and diverse’, or ‘you’ve lost touch with reality’ or ‘you’re too expensive’.

“Any reason or excuse not to get an interview or successful placement.

“Instead of sitting there and accepting it – being the type of guy I am – I said ‘let’s try and do something about it’.”

Jones spoke to Ure about doing something to get the over-50s – “over 45s, actually” – back into technology jobs.

“There’s a diverse and great pool of people in Australia who have got experience,” Jones says.

“Lots of senior tech people are now working at Bunnings or driving for Uber because they can’t get jobs.

“We said, ‘this is not right, these are guys who have skills that are wasted in the community.’

“We also noticed women who wanted to get back to work after having a sabbatical to raise families. They also struggle. Grant’s wife was one of them.

“She was a very good engineer – probably better than both of us – but she went and had a family and after having a sabbatical found it a bit too hard and a bit scary; she’d lost her confidence.

“So, we said ‘let’s help women who want to get back to work after having a family, let’s help people who are over 45 who for no reasons of their own often have lost their jobs.’”

And so PrimeL was born.

“Prime, because you’re in the prime of your life, and L, being the Roman numeral for 50,” Jones explains.

Addressing the skills shortage

PrimeL places workers in part-time, full-time or contract employment.

“There is a skills shortage, so we should be maximising in every area we can,” says Ure.

Upskilling older workers is one way of meeting that demand.

The start-up tech recruiter does a personal assessment of each candidate looking at their personal, professional and technical skills; finds the gaps; then works on a training program to get candidates “refreshed” and back into work.

Jones says many job seekers express frustration that their age is held against them.

“They say, ‘We’re not too old for it. We understand it. For goodness sake, we transformed from mainframes to client – it’s just the evolution of technology.’

“Cloud is what mainframe was, in many ways.”

With many people choosing to work until the Age Pension kicks in (currently 65.5 years, rising to 67 years in July 2023), can Australia afford to not employ older workers?

Jones says years of technology experience are going to waste simply because older workers can’t get jobs.

“A lot of them would love to get back into IT,” he says.

“They’re not interested in being CIOs – they just want to contribute.

“They won’t be fickle and move around. They’ll be very committed and thankful for that job.”

Jones says much of the interest in their services is coming from mid-sized businesses undergoing a transformation to new systems.

“Often the CIO and the team will want to focus on the vision, but they need to keep the steady ship running,” he says.

“They say, ‘I want to focus on transformation, I need someone to run operations. If you’ve got 30 years running operations, come work with me, mentor me.’

“So, one of our people will come in and look after the legacy business.”

For smaller companies and start-ups, an experienced tech lead may be out of their league.

“We offer CIO as a service, so if a business can’t afford a full-time CIO – but it would be good to have someone there with that experience to help give guidance, direction, and strategy – they can hire someone on a short-term basis.”

PrimeL is off to a good start, with government engagements now on the agenda.

“The government has started talking to us. They’re keen to get over 45s, over 50s back in the workforce.

“They’ve asked us to come up with a program as to how we can get more people in that age group back in the workforce.”

Knocking back any suggestion their perspective is coming from an “ageing, white, privileged male” agenda, Jones said the business had more altruistic goals.

“We want to help anybody, especially returning women, and people who have just lost their jobs. We don’t care about your sex or race. We just want to help you get into work.”

Have you experienced age discrimination when looking for a tech job? We’d love to hear your story in the comments below. – Roulla Yiacoumi, Managing Editor