Embracing Technology Over 50: Getting up to Speed With Your Tech Skills

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Although the digital revolution is here to stay, tech skills may still be an issue for many of us. If you feel like you’re late to the party, or reluctant to embrace technology, the following framework may help bring you up to speed and up to date.

Let’s face it, tech skills are business skills. Adopting both software and hardware technology will benefit both your career and your life in general. But it does come with challenges for older adults who have been reluctant or hesitant to stay current.  

If you’ve developed some tech skills blind spots, you’re most likely harboring a certain degree of confusion about tech, or skepticism about your ability to make up for lost time. You may also be in this situation because in the past, you have not been given enough training or clear guidance to adopt tech. And as a result, you may even have built up a certain defensiveness and fear in the process, fearing you’re going to say something awkward or look silly.

According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center, working Americans up to age 64 have overwhelmingly adopted technology (if you consider internet adoption as a benchmark). It’s actually the older cohort (64+) who are lagging behind by about 25%.

With retirement becoming less and less affordable to most seniors, getting up to speed with tech could be the critical factor that enables older workers to remain in the workforce either full-time or part-time. 

It’s NOT Like “Riding a Bike”

One of my colleagues runs a non-profit that provides a wide range of services to older clients. She is understandably eager to hire older workers who can relate to their clientele (and who, in turn, will be more relatable).

While most if not all older job candidates she interviews claim to have tech skills, their working knowledge is surprisingly limited. For example, someone may know how to draft a Word document, but they won’t be able to format it using different styles, or perhaps know how to turn it into a .pdf. They can perform basic calculations in Excel but balk at more complex formulas.

So while you may have started using a word processor back in the days of Wordperfect, it’s crucial to recognize that software and hardware capabilities are constantly evolving.

Tech is not something you learn once. It’s not a “set it and forget it” skill – like riding a bike. It’s a practice and a process that is constantly on the move. In fairness, there’s probably a good argument to be made that we spend too much time staying current with tech, and it’s time that we could otherwise spend actually getting work done.

But unfortunately, that is the world we live in. The productivity hit that we take, though, is likely more than made up for by our increased capability and capacity enabled by new upgrades and new tools.

Why Embrace Tech Skills? 

Physical fitness is a helpful analogy, here. No one is going to argue that allocating time every week to health, self-care, and physical activity would be a waste of energy. In fact, we all know that pursuing health and fitness prolongs life, increases resiliency, and releases endorphins to keep you positive, focused, and energized.

Apply that same principle to tech adoption. Empowering yourself by adopting a growth mindset when it comes to tech is going to positively impact a number of areas in your daily life.

First, it will give you a sense of empowerment and independence. Instead of constantly relying on the IT guy or your (younger) colleagues to get around digital tools, you will be able to solve issues on your own. Not only will you save time, but your productivity and confidence level will soar.

The Workplace Has Changed

You may have noticed that the workplace is more collaborative than ever. Gone are the days when we accomplished tasks pretty much on our own and reported 1:1 to a single manager.  Increasingly, managers are team leaders and facilitators, and working groups are more interdependent. Under these circumstances, your ability to navigate tech skills successfully and seamlessly are necessary to the success of your team and will make you a more valuable asset and a more sought-after colleague.

Tech skills may appear to be no more than the glue that holds everyone’s work together, but they constitute a shared medium where better relationships are built and successes can be shared. You may still be getting up to speed on a particular software platform or workflow. But your willingness to share that learning process with others will actually help you learn faster. Your success will be a bonding experience as you learn to embrace the rhythm of your more highly functional team environment. Working with tech is akin to a language, and you have the opportunity to learn to speak it more fluently.

Your lack of tech skills will likely place you at a disadvantage when applying for a new position or looking to grow within your organization. But the key question is not how proficient you are at a particular skill set. It’s not about how familiar you are with a certain software package or platform. It’s more about your open attitude and your understanding of the digital workforce.

Everyone – even digital natives – needs to learn new tech skills. So demonstrate your willingness to learn, and your confidence that you can learn.

tech skills

Basic In-Demand Skills: What You Need to Know

If you take a look at this list of tech-related in-demand skills on Glassdoor, you might be tempted to panic. Rest assured that no candidate is conversant with all of these skills, or even with a significant subset. You might also be relieved to learn that even digital natives find many of these skills daunting. Many of these skills require years of training and specialized focus. But the list is a good indicator of the breadth and depth of tech skills across the digital economy.

Here are a handful of key tech skills to consider and get comfortable with.

Spreadsheets

Data analysis has been one of the fastest-growing and most important applications of technology over the past ten years. Having a good understanding of Excel (and/or its analog Google Sheets) helps you organize company data and analyze it, as well as draft budgets, project financial data, and run simulations. Most companies will expect you to know how to perform basic data entry, formatting, calculation tasks, and even pivot tables, no matter what your role is. PRO TIP: If you are good with numbers but haven’t spent the time becoming a spreadsheet expert, find out how top performers in your company (or the company you’re applying to) use Excel or Sheets and get mentored or trained to get to their level. This is one of the universal tech skills that will always stand you in good stead.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

These platforms (like Salesforce) keep all current and historical data about prospects, leads, and customers in one place. While used extensively in Sales, CRMs have grown to provide functionality around pretty much every aspect of managing customer and/or client relationships.  PRO TIP: If you’re new to CRMs, build a basic contact tracker for the top 50 friends and family in your life. Use a spreadsheet (see above) to enter their basic information, when you’re next going to contact them, and what your last conversation was about. Imagine applying that same knowledge base concept to all of your business contacts. How powerful is that! 

Presentations and Slide Decks

If you’ve seen your high schooler (or middle schooler!) present in PowerPoint or Keynote and you’re too embarrassed to admit your unfamiliarity with these tools, you’re not alone. PRO TIP: Think of presentation tools as mental organizers. Read up on the best ways to tell your story through slides, and remember to use as few words as possible on each slide. Building presentations is a great way to test out your own ideas, or outline reports that you need to deliver.

Task or Project Managers

These tools are essential to help you keep track of all of the To-Dos that are on your list. As projects become more complex, and teams have to share responsibilities while also meeting deadlines, a shared workspace is essential. Project managers range in the features and complexity that they offer. Most of them offer internal messaging so that everyone knows the latest updates and statuses on your project. Effective use of project management software cuts down on meetings, which gives you more time to get your work done. PRO TIP: If you’ve never used one of these tools, start with a basic task manager to help you organize your personal life and understand the structure and hierarchy that more complex systems employ. Todoist, Trello, and Asana are good tools to start with.

Slack

Slack is the revolutionary tool that, when used properly, eliminates the clusterf**k that is email. If you spend all of your time in your email Inbox, imagine communicating in a software environment where context is king and everything related to any given project, idea, initiative or group has its own place. You never have to search for that email from your colleague from last month that had a great suggestion about whatever. While Slack has many imitators, and its features have been incorporated into other programs (including many of the project management tools), it is the OG messaging platform that you need to learn.

How to Train Yourself for the Tech World

While community colleges are still good sources of learning when it comes to many tech skills, you may also be able to do most of your training online in a self-directed way. The good news about learning online is that it will force you to be more self-responsible and strategic about how you go about it. Don’t expect that one single course from one single instructor is going to teach you everything you need to know about, say, spreadsheets.

No. In fact, you probably want to learn from multiple instructors and multiple sources – some of them paid, some of them free. You can learn from academics, other professionals like you, specialists, software developers supporting their own products, and even YouTube creators.

Getting up to speed and comfortable with your tech skills is not going to be a simple one-stop-shop process. There are too many updates, tweaks, hacks, workflows, and workarounds that you will eventually need to learn to be an effective and empowered tech user. You don’t have to be a software engineer or a software geek to get up to speed, but by engaging with many sources of information to fuel your learning experience, you’ll build greater awareness of the skill sets, and a greater sense of confidence in your ability to use the technology – and grow with it.

YouTube

It never ceases to amaze me that YouTube is the second most-used search engine on the internet after Google itself. That’s clearly because we are to a large degree visual learners, and the smorgasbord approach of YouTube and its infinite channels on every conceivable topic are a great first place to start when we’re looking to learn something new.

Five minutes surfing a few search terms and subscribing to a few channels can set you up on pretty much any topic.

Here’s a very basic example of a perfectly effective Spreadsheets coursethat you could use to spark your journey into Excel or Sheets.

Very often, what I find with YouTube is that by continuing to search for videos that address your questions in more depth or with greater clarity, you find yourself building a greater awareness of what you actually need to learn.

This expresses a very important principle of tech skills learning: only learn what you need to learn right now to solve the problem you currently need to solve. That might be to provide a broad foundation, but down the road, it could involve learning a particular subset of skills, or even (in the case of spreadsheets), the various ways of using a particular formula.

Paid Platforms

Once you’ve gotten the lay of the land, you’re ready to look for more specialized courseware that can address your needs in a more professional manner. Below are some of the better-established platforms offering paid courses under various business models.

Udemy provides a library of 183,000 + courses available in 65 languages that can help you expand your tech skills and any field imaginable from marketing, business, finance to arts and crafts. In terms of pricing, the courses range from $11 up to $200 or more (depending on the course or any available promotions). The only downside of Udemy is that it’s not an accredited institution and that instructors might not be as engaged in the Q&A sections as other platforms.

Skillshare works as a subscription-based platform. Basically, you pay a $14 monthly fee to have access to approximately 35,000 + courses with a wide range of topics. While other platforms tend to imitate the college style of teaching, Skillshare aims to improve creative skills and is less formal. You can also benefit from a 7-day free trial to decide if it suits your needs. You also get to be trained by skilled instructors and even celebrities. 

Udacity is an accredited online learning platform with over 200 available courses that can take up to four months to complete. Although they might seem a bit pricey, starting from $399 a month and up to $1,995, you will get access to real industry experts who will work alongside you to help build your tech skills portfolio.  Finally, two tech industry leaders provide their own learning platforms that pivot off of their core mission.

Google Digital Garage is a Google learning platform that provides free and paid courses, introducing you to technology basics, digital marketing, and other topical business skills that reflect the areas that Google operates in. Many of the courses are created by university partners.

LinkedIn Learning is the business network’s learning platform that offers audio and video courses across the full range of business sectors, from the most technical to the most creative industries. Instructors are working professionals vetted and contracted by LinkedIn to develop and produce their courses. Access to courses is free for premium-level LinkedIn subscribers and can be purchased on a one-off basis or by subscription.  Many companies purchase company-wide subscriptions for their employees, regardless of whether they are individual LinkedIn paid subscribers.

Full disclosure: I’m a LinkedIn Learning instructor with four courses published on the advantages of the multigenerational workforce.

Get Your Tech Skills On!

Tech is just a tool. Be open. Don’t be intimidated. Focus on the tasks you’re trying to accomplish in your work, and use the same openness to training that you’ve had in the past to acquire other new skills.

Focus on the painting, don’t focus on the brush.

Don’t buy into the myth that older workers are either incapable of learning or uninterested in learning new skills. There’s plenty of research to counter that bias.

If you’re fearful of failing at technology, remember: errors and impasses are all part of the process of making progress. Be persistent and most of all, be curious.

Believe in your capabilities — you can learn anything you want as long as you’re willing to put the effort and time into it. Start now by picking one of the tech skills listed above that is especially relevant to your work, and see what’s on offer at one of the suggested learning platforms.

Let me know what you choose, and where it takes you!


    • Thanks, Moira! What are you going to start doing or work towards as a result of reading it? I’m always interested to hear how people are engaging with this information… All the best!

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    About 

    John...

    John Tarnoff is a career transition coach, speaker and best-selling author who helps late-career professionals transition to meaningful second-act careers beyond traditional retirement.

    Following a successful career as a Hollywood film executive and tech entrepreneur, he reinvented his own career at 50, earning a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology to focus on professional development and training.

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