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Tech Industry

Program trains seniors in IT skills

If you have retired and are looking for something to do with your spare time, Microsoft and nonprofit Green Thumb have a suggestion: Become an IT professional.

Today's average life expectancy is 76, and rising. If you have retired, and are looking for something to do with your spare time, Microsoft and a nonprofit organization called Green Thumb have a suggestion: Become an information technology professional.

Retirees currently make up over 25 percent of the population of the United States, and in the next 25 years, they will make up over 35 percent of the population.

Given the daily drum of reports bemoaning the dearth of IT professionals, it seems only logical that high-tech companies should start looking to people other than computer-science majors for help in solving the imminent labor crisis. So why not seniors?

According to a study by the Information Technology Association, 190,000 IT jobs are available in U.S. companies. And under a new program being launched by Microsoft and Green Thumb, senior citizens in the pilot cities of Sacramento, California; Baltimore, Maryland; and Austin, Texas, are now eligible for an aptitude test that will steer them toward these jobs, which include positions as desk workers, network administrators, database administrators, and technical writers. The program also will provide training for seniors who show aptitude. The software giant is donating the courseware to authorized technical education centers, and a Department of Labor grant is picking up the tab for the training.

Representatives from both Green Thumb and Microsoft said that senior citizens have been very receptive to the program, overwhelming Microsoft's switchboards with requests for information after early news about the program was leaked.

It is hoped that the program will dispel stereotypes of older people being intimidated by technology.

"Who is it not intimidating to, when you first sit down with it?" asked Alice Ann Toole, director of public affairs for Green Thumb. "It starts to fall into place as your comfort-level increases, even with token exposure."

Toole believes that businesses will be receptive to hiring those who have completed training. "I don't think they care if they are old or young or purple or green if they are an individual who can perform," she said.

Mary Furlong, CEO of Third Age Media, a multimedia company that focuses on the needs of older Americans, said senior citizens are uniquely suited to fill IT positions.

"Older adults have got the time, the knowledge, and the patience, which is the number one thing in using computers," Furlong said.

Furlong believes that technology companies like Intel, IBM, and Adobe already have proven that they are receptive to hiring older adults.

However, Microsoft, the company that is sponsoring the training, has not yet pledged to hire any of its graduates.

"This initiative isn't aimed at Microsoft hiring these individuals," said Karen Steckler, group manager for special training at Microsoft. "We're looking at the industry overall."