Startup Life/Hiring & Workforce/Opinion/

Older workers aren’t old-fashioned — they might be your secret weapon

Older employees can bring experience and networks crucial to helping tech companies scale.

UiPath
Renzo Taal

By Renzo Taal

To many, emerging tech is synonymous with youth. Yet, technology is never created nor consumed exclusively by young people. In fact, a Harvard Business Review report found that the average age at which a successful founder started their company is 45, and research clearly demonstrates that age diversity can benefit businesses at any stage. 

So why aren’t more tech startups hiring older, more experienced employees? Those that aren’t are missing a secret weapon that could help propel them from disruptor to category-winner. 

Buying experience with older employees  

Funding allows startups to add resources — but one of the most overlooked practices is recruiting employees who bring years of experience.

In its early days, the core team at UiPath was relatively young. However, as the company set its sights on scaling globally, the value in having older team members within the company, particularly on the leadership team, became immediately apparent. 

To gain the trust of prospective customers in a new market, our founders realised that they needed experienced professionals that could tap into their hard-earned experience and personal networks. By actively recruiting individuals that could fulfil this business requirement, the leadership team soon had first-hand knowledge of the market we were looking to enter and could impart vital wisdom as to what challenges our future customers were facing.

I have also seen this to be true through my experience in sales. Older workers can often effectively appeal to organisations facing the challenge of being weighed down by outdated processes or legacy systems. They have seen the world of work change more than once and as such have an essence of shared experience with these businesses. 

“I see no difference in hiring an older worker who may be looking to retire in the not-too-distant future and a younger team member hungry for more experience but may leave within a couple of years”

Older employees can also pass down knowledge of both successes and failures. One of our recent hires at UiPath has only cemented my belief in this. Though they’re likely to retire in the next five years or so, they have become an informal leader and are regarded as a mentor by many younger employees.

Average tech employee tenure is estimated at around three years. While it’s important to ensure that your company is looking after and retaining employees, it’s often inevitable that many will move on. Therefore, when faced with the option, I see no difference in hiring an older worker who may be looking to retire in the not-too-distant future and a younger team member hungry for more experience but may leave within a couple of years. Given both options, founders should strongly consider candidates who bring experience. The combination of younger workers with older workers focused on a long-term view and problem-solving is often powerful. 

Attracting older tech professionals

Knowing how to build diversity into high-performance teams comes from strong leadership — but it cascades right down through an organisation, from HR to IT and beyond. 

Countless articles and reports highlight the unacceptable levels of ageism within tech. Therefore, for older employees to join the sector, they must feel welcomed in both applying and working at tech organisations. To an extent, this can come through the wider team, by fostering a culture of acceptance and belonging through open conversations and building relationships. 

Proactively considering applicants’ profiles in a different way is also key. Rather than searching for a CV full of tech experience, take time to consider what an older worker could bring after spending decades in an adjacent industry. 

“Average tech employee tenure is around three years … I see no difference in hiring an older worker who may be looking to retire in the not-too-distant future”

Recent hires have proven the ongoing value that older members of the workforce can bring. A close colleague of mine had consulting experience as opposed to a rich background in enterprise software. We have been able to train her in the specific tech but her diverse consulting experience has taught her colleagues something more strategic — a new way of thinking. 

While the tech landscape is in continuous change and growth mode, companies are putting in place diversity policies to ensure they foster inclusivity. For example, Valtech set up a Global D&I Council and established a worldwide data-collection program to measure the state of diversity and inclusion. Elsewhere, US-based Drift has a number of “employee resource groups” designed to make its employees feel welcome and connected. At UiPath we’re making sure that diversity remains at the core of our recruitment strategies as we continue our sustained growth by rolling out a company-wide policy in the next twelve months. 

Far from being a buzzword, diversity is a guarantee that your business is well-grounded and future-proof. Yet continuing to hire talent in the same way as we do now will leave tech firms lacking when it comes to older expertise. And this is a lesson better learned early, and not from your own experience. 

Renzo Taal is SVP and European managing director at UiPath

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