They won’t catch on to the technology. They’ll have a hard time developing new skills. They won’t relate well to teammates of different generations. These, according to a study by the McKinsey-founded independent nonprofit Generation, are just a few of the misperceptions hiring managers around the world have about job candidates who are between 45 and 60 years old.
Generation conducted global research on mid-career workers, surveying more than 1,400 hiring managers and 3,800 job seekers and workers. “Individuals who are 45 and older are wrongly perceived to be the least desirable cohort in terms of skills, readiness for training, and ability to fit into an organization,” explains Mona Mourshed, the founding CEO of Generation. “What was also quite stark was that this perception bias was absolutely universal across every country we surveyed.”
But the research also revealed that managers rank these workers the same or higher on job performance than employees a decade younger.
Generation recently celebrated a milestone of more than 50,000 graduates across 16 countries. While many institutions have contributed to its exponential growth, our firm has served a unique role as founder, funder, and advisor.
“We believe in the power of work to transform people’s lives. In our work with Generation, we are contributing our most valuable resource—our people—by enabling them to work side-by-side with Generation staff on a wide range of operational and program initiatives,” says Anna Navratil, head of giving back at McKinsey. “Reskilling mid-career workers is a critical aspect to helping businesses and communities achieve more inclusive growth.”
Generation Singapore has been retraining older workers since 2018. Along the way, the organization has identified specific interventions to help this group secure jobs. Their most recent initiative, #GetReadySG, launched with Microsoft, is training 1000+ unemployed people—40 percent of whom are mid-career workers—with little or no tech experience for entry-level jobs in the industry. These include positions in cloud support and DevOps, business intelligence and data analytics, and full-stack development. By the end of this year, the program expects to have prepared some 500 of its participants for job placement.
There is keen demand for tech workers in the island nation, and the government there helps subsidize training for citizens. According to Phua Huishan, the operations lead for Generation Singapore, this has played a key role in the program’s success. “The allowance allows the participants, who may be supporting a family or living on their own, to focus on their training,” Phua says.
As with all Generation programs, the curriculum is shaped by the organization’s more than 50 employer partners and includes guidance for developing both hard tech capabilities and soft skills: behaviors and mindsets. The program starts with an intensive, three-month boot camp specific to a tech role followed by up to six months of apprenticeship with a company.
A recent graduate of the program, Syaffi, had a decade of experience in publishing when his company closed due to the pandemic. He explains why he chose Generation over a number of other programs: “It’s a 360-degree approach that is about more than learning the nitty gritty of coding; it’s also training you to think like a coder, with support in your job search that you won’t find elsewhere.”
The tech training is intensive, according to participants. “During boot camp, you learn the basics with a few hundred lines of code per page,” explains Kenneth, a former restaurant manager who recently graduated from the program as a junior full-stack developer. “But in the apprenticeship, when there is an error, you’re sifting through a few thousand lines of code per page. It’s quite intimidating.”
Such challenges demonstrate why “soft skills” training for a growth mindset and persistence are so valuable. Pichaya Deesomsak is a McKinsey fellow who supported the Generation Singapore program and is now helping to set up operations, secure funding, and develop partnerships for Generation Thailand’s program. “Adaptability and willingness to take initiative and find answers are intrinsic to working in tech,” Pichaya says.
And for at least one mid-career program graduate, these new skills combined with his long work experience have made him particularly well-suited to flourish his new career. Timothy, a cloud specialist who is over 40 years old, was on the job for a month when his manager told him as much. “Your past experience with people actually helps in being a cloud engineer,” the manager said. “You portray yourself more maturely.”