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The skills and experience older people can offer working in IT have been undermined by recent press coverage, according to new research.

The argument, which has rattled throughout national press and the blogosphere in recent months, says the ever-changing nature of technology demands a young, energetic workforce equipped to deal with the digital age.

But the assertion that older people struggle to adapt to new technology is "irresponsible and just plain wrong", said Phil Murphy in the Forrester report "CIOs: Avoid War Between IT's Twentysomethings And More Mature Workers".

In the report he debunks various assumptions including the idea that so-called baby boomers will "retire en masse". Instead, he argues that recent statistics in the US suggest that many people cannot afford to retire as early as they would like and that mature workers have a lot to offer in terms of their application of knowledge, as well as mentoring roles.

He goes on to say that overlooking older workers is "counterproductive" for business.

"The top third of older workers presents no management problem; these workers' eagerness to learn new technology requires only encouragement and access to tools," said Murphy.

The report advises that the key to running a successful IT business is in tapping into the diversity of the workforce available. Rather than excluding a large swath of people, management should embrace the different sets of skills and combine knowledge across generations.

It points to COBOL as one such example. Far from being a dead skill, the fact IBM is investing $100m in revitalising the system illustrates the value of mature workers in IT as they can play a key mentoring role for a younger generation not skilled in mainframe technology.

"By pairing them with older workers, younger staff members more quickly gain the seasoning that helps them to advance."

Age discrimination is now illegal in the UK workplace. This, along with a generally aging population, means it might be wise for IT bosses to heed the advice given in the report and fully realise the potential of their workforce. ®

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