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IT workforce skews younger, says analysis of US data

The IT workforce is getting younger, according to government IT workforce data. The reasons for this are subject to a debate that includes everything from age bias to a heavy reliance on foreign workers.

The tech industry cites diversity and inclusion as a priority. When firms release diversity data, they'll point to their efforts to hire women and minorities. But they are silent on the issue of age. On that front, analysis of government IT workforce age data shows a largely younger workforce.  

CompTIA Inc., an industry group, analyzed government data and compared it against national averages across all industries. Its analysis shows 22% of all workers in the labor force are 25 to 34 years old. But in the IT workforce, it's 28%. The gap continues in the 35-to-44 age bracket, where IT workers make up 29% of this labor force, above the national workforce of 21%.

But in the 55- to 64-year-old age group, the reverse is true. IT workers in this age bracket make up 13% of the tech workforce, below the 17% of the national workforce.

CompTIA isn't drawing any conclusions from the data.

"We don't want to read anything into this other than the fact that it skews younger," said Tim Herbert, senior vice president of research and market intelligence at CompTIA in Downers Grove, Ill.

"It's tough to make too many generalizations here," Herbert said. It could be a combination of age bias, or a "degree of self-selection" where older IT workers are moving into other fields, management or other positions, he said. The reasons are not captured by the data, he said. 

If employers are excluding certain types of candidates, "they are certainly putting themselves at a disadvantage, given how competitive the market is," Herbert said.

The IT workforce is younger than the national workforce, data analysis shows.
The IT workforce is younger than the national workforce, data analysis shows.

Multiple reasons for problem

There is no single or clear reason for IT workforce's age disparity against the national data.

Age bias may play a role. Age discrimination lawsuits in the tech industry are common. Google, IBM and Hewlett-Packard are among the firms that have faced litigation.

Ron Hira, an associate professor in the political science department at Howard University, also cited the tech industry's reliance on H-1B visa workers. Hira has testified in Congress on this issue.

We don't want to read anything into this other than the fact that it skews younger.
Tim HerbertSenior vice president, research and market intelligence, CompTIA

H-1B workers are mostly under the age of 40. Of all the H-1B petitions approved, about 70% are for people who will work in computer occupations, including IT, according to government data. 

In 2017, 88% of all H-1B workers were less than 39 years of age. Indeed, 43% were 30 to 34 years of age, the U.S. reported.

Hira faults the tech industry for its failure to improve its hiring of women and minorities. "These are significant talent pools that the tech industry has largely ignored," Hira said.

Women, for instance, account for 26% of the computing occupations, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. 

Data may be worse

Hira said age disparity in computer occupations may be worse compared to engineering. The Labor Dept. defines the computer and math occupation category broadly. It includes computer scientists, security analysts, programmers, developers and other IT areas.

In the Labor Dept.'s computer and mathematical occupation category, Baby Boomers, or those who are 55 to 75 years old, make up 15% of that category. In the architecture and engineering occupations category, Baby Boomers make up 27% of the workforce.

Explanations could include age discrimination as well as the more recent growth of computer occupations, Hira said. The largest growth in this field occurred in the 1990s, he noted. 

David Foote, president and chief research officer at Foote Partners LLC, a labor market research firm, said the four hottest areas in technology are AI and machine learning, advanced data analytics or big data, cybersecurity, and the internet of everything, which include both hardware and software jobs.

Some occupations, such as AI, tend to favor younger workers because the occupations are relatively new, Foote said.

In terms of IT leadership, Victor Janulaitis, CEO at Janco Associates, a labor market research firm, said the median age of CIOs is falling as the Baby Boomers retire.

"As younger individuals become CIOs, many will tend to hire direct reports that are in their age groups," Janulaitis said. New applications, such as blockchain, will tend to favor IT pros in the 30 to 40 age range, he said.

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