MRO Magazine

Are older workers reluctant to learn new technologies?

The stereotype about aging employees being unable to adapt to change or learn new technologies has been challenged by the results of a study carried out recently at Louisiana State University....


April 1, 2005
By MRO Magazine

The stereotype about aging employees being unable to adapt to change or learn new technologies has been challenged by the results of a study carried out recently at Louisiana State University.

When the state of Pennsylvania three years ago upgraded its computer systems to streamline and standardize key business processes, Dr. Tracey Rizzuto, assistant professor of psychology at LSU, looked into how older workers would fare in adapting to the new technology.

Rizzuto concentrated on the state’s purchasing agents’ willingness to learn the new systems, as well as their motivation, commitment and satisfaction in accepting the changes. Of more than 360 people surveyed, nearly 60% were 46 or older and 11% were over 55. This is in line with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ figures, which show an aging workforce, of which 20% will be older than 55 within five years (research in Canada shows a similar situation).

Contrary to common belief, Rizzuto found that older workers exhibited more willingness to learn the new technology than their younger counterparts. Veteran employees were more enthusiastic about the changes, she observed, knocking the theory that older workers prevent companies from benefiting from their knowledge and experience.

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“While there may be some isolated examples of an older worker being resistant to change, this study suggests that is not typical of most older workers surveyed,” she said. Older workers, more than younger workers, saw the value of the changes and felt an obligation and loyalty to their company and to their co-workers to learn and implement the new technology.

Rizzuto goes on to say there is some research that shows that older workers may not be as quick in learning new technology skills as younger people, but their commitment and willingness to learn make up for this. She suggests that companies provide specialized training for older workers to keep them current with new technological procedures.

For more information, visit the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) at www.siop.org. The Society, which organized this study, is an international group of 6,000 industrial-organizational psychologists whose members study and apply scientific principles concerning people in the workplace.