Whether you’re a tech newbie or a confident veteran, it’s easy to feel that as soon as you have mastered one piece of technology, it all changes. If you’re over 50, you have likely learned that nothing is constant and have gone through your fair share of changes over the course of your career. But even if you’re comfortable with whatever the changing career landscape may throw your way, striking out into the digital unknown can be a bit daunting.
According to the Pew Research Center, older Americans are staying in the workforce longer than they used to. And as the very nature of employment and communication changes, workers are being asked to learn new digital skills in order to keep up.
Although digital natives may have an advantage, that doesn’t mean that as an over-50 employee you can’t pick up the new tech skills you’ll need in order to be a competitive employee or job seeker.
Smartphones and tablets have been around long enough that they are now used by people across almost every generation. The Pew Research Center found that today, 58% of individuals over the age of 65 use the Internet, where only 15% of the same age group did back in 2000.
We all worry about finding the confidence to try new things. As technology has advanced, so has the desire to make that new technology more accessible to a wider audience. Many tech companies are researching and developing products for seniors, and there are even programs available that specifically work with older adults interested in learning to navigate these new tools and platforms.
Keep it simple
You don’t always have to be up on the latest app. Instead, start with the basics. Get comfortable using the Internet, social media, and tools like Google Drive. For example, perhaps you want to start by learning how to use an email-marketing platform to create and send out your first newsletter; MailChimp offers templates and online tutorials to get you started. Once you have mastered that, it’s time to move on to the next skill on your technology to-do list.
Not sure where to begin? Here are a few suggestions:
- If you’re searching for your next job or volunteer opportunity, Idealist.org can help you get comfortable using on-site search tools and filters.
- Virtual volunteering offers opportunities to support causes you’re passionate about and gain computer experience at the same time.
- The Google Productivity Suite lets you manage all of your email, documents, and calendars in one place. It offers a variety of extra tools to help you make calls and stay connected to co-workers and family. There are plenty of training resources available to help you get started.
- Video conferencing is often used for meetings and in hiring situations. Sign up for Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype, or GoToMeeting by following one of these links and practice chatting with a friend or family member so you’re ready if you’re asked to use one of them for a meeting in the future. All of these sites offer FAQs and customer support.
- Many employers look to your digital presence when making hiring decisions. LinkedIn can be useful when looking for a job as it allows you to promote yourself and your skillset—think of it as a basic digital portfolio.
Dig a little deeper
Once you’re feeling comfortable using new sites, functionalities, and platforms, you may find that you'd like to continue exploring what’s out there.
Here are a few more things to check out:
- AARP Now App: This app delivers senior-specific news, shares local events, and lets you know about any discounts you may qualify for with an AARP membership. Also check out AARP Back to Work 50+.
- Evernote: Evernote keeps tracks of all your notes one system that will sync across all of your devices. Use it to collaborate and share data.
- SeniorNet: SeniorNet is “an independent, international, volunteer-based nonprofit organization that is one of the world’s leading technology educators of adults 55+.”
- Silver Surf: This free app for iPhone and iPad features large navigation buttons, allows users to zoom in on text, and set higher contrast to make viewing easier.
- Technology For Seniors Made Easy: This is a Facebook group offering tips and info for working and managing life online.
- Trello: Trello is an online project management app that lets you set deadlines, assign tasks, and have conversations with coworkers. It gives you a simple way to see a project through to completion.
Many communities offer programs to support learning new tech skills. Certification programs, professional development opportunities, and group instruction may be found in your area at adult education centers, senior centers, career centers, and community colleges.
You may even find that retirement centers and local libraries are offering courses to support learning these new skills. As a bonus, libraries will have free computers for you to practice on! Some adult literacy programs offer tutoring in computer literacy as well, so consider giving your local program a call.
Technology is now so ubiquitous in life and business that things that were once optional are now simply part of the expected employee skill set. We can all learn to be more comfortable navigating new technology that can enrich our lives and make us better workers.
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About the Author | For nearly two decades, Jeannette Eaton has been working for nonprofits and helping people identify their strengths. She has experience as an advocate for women and girls in crisis, a volunteer coordinator for adult literacy, and a family literacy instructor.