Testimony of Craig Spiezle, Microsoft Director of Market Development Before the Senate Special Committee on Aging


Director of Market Development

Microsoft Corporation

Before the Senate Special Committee on Aging

“The Internet: Empowering Older Americans”

July 16, 1998

My name is Craig Spiezle, Director of Market Development at Microsoft Corporation, a leader in the U.S. information technology industry. On behalf of Microsoft, I would like to thank Senator Grassley, Senator Breaux and other members of the Special Committee on Aging for the opportunity to discuss with you the benefits that technology and the Internet can bring to seniors, as well as the benefits mature Americans bring to the economy. Although the information age is commonly associated with younger generations, and we regularly hear of young children’s online proficiency, there is an overlooked but important symbiosis between older Americans and the Internet, particularly with respect to employability and life-long learning. The more senior Americans learn about using computers in the modern workplace, the more employable they become and the more likely they are to retain their jobs. Microsoft is proud to be a part of several cooperative partnerships with the public and non-profit sectors designed to help seniors remain independent, self-sufficient and productive members of society far longer than they ever dreamed they possible.

We are currently faced with two world-wide revolutions — the convergence of aging or more appropriately, longevity, and the explosion in technology. Americans are living longer and having more productive and active lives than any generation in our nation’s history. Every week, worldwide, 1 million people turn 60. According to author and business management guru Peter Drucker, Americans are no longer retiring at 55 or 60, and working into their 70s will not be uncommon. While many choose to continue working, others work because they cannot afford to retire. And this trend will continue.

At the same time, the rapidly changing technology industry has driven incredible economic growth, new business formation and competitiveness. During the past five years alone, the information technology industry has generated a quarter of the real economic growth in the United States and now accounts for more than eight percent of our national output. As computer technology becomes more ubiquitous in our home, lives and work, computer literacy has become imperative for personal and vocational growth and advancement. In fact, a major impediment to our continued economic growth is the shortage of skilled, high-technology workers. Right now, over 340,000 high-tech jobs are going unfilled in the United States. In order to meet this challenge head-on and continue to grow our economy, we need to invest now in the tremendous human resources that have made America great, by promoting lifelong training and learning for all of our people.

From Microsoft’s perspective, one of our key national assets is building a skilled workforce to meet our economy’s needs is the senior community. We view mature Americans as a key solution to this skills gap and over the past 12 months we have instituted a broad range of programs to tap the wealth of experience seniors bring to the workplace. We recently completed over 700
“Lifetime Connections”
seminars in concert with AARP, and support from SeniorNet introducing over 70,000 seniors to the world of computers and the Internet.

In March 1998, we joined forces with Green Thumb to recognize America’s senior workers at the Prime Time Awards here in Washington, DC. A common thread among the winners was their newly-developed technology skills. We learned a great deal from this program and have since embarked on several initiatives focussing on PC literacy. These include a $350,000 grant to Green Thumb, to develop information technology training programs that will provide thousands of seniors, dislocated workers and disadvantaged individuals with skills to begin new careers. The effort is part of the Microsoft® Skills 2000 initiative aimed at addressing the information technology work-force shortage by recruiting and training new people for jobs in the industry.

Further enhancing the employability of economically disadvantaged older adults, we recently began working with the National Council on the Aging (NCOA) on training programs to their member organizations and a nation-wide competition to award grants totaling more than $400,000 worth of hardware and software. Within 30 days, they received nearly 400 applications from organizations wanting to provide such training to recruit seniors back into the workforce. Moreover, the initiative encourages older Americans, especially those who are low-income, to learn to become computer- and Internet-literate. With the convergence of aging and technology, this is an excellent opportunity for organizations that serve mature Americans to empower them with PC and Internet skills training.

What have we learned from these programs? We have learned that together, Microsoft, the IT industry, non-profit organizations and governmental agencies must collectively demonstrate the benefits of technology to all of our citizens, especially our older citizens who are far to often overlooked when the subject is teaching technology. We are not talking about technology simply for technology’s sake. We are talking about how technology can foster independent living, create virtual communities, unite families from all corners of the world, expand education, creativity and productivity, and perhaps most importantly, extend employability for all Americans.

Americans over the age of 60 represent the fastest growing segment of computer and Internet users, yet less then 5% of seniors’ households own and actively use a computer. This compares to an overall PC penetration of 45 percent of all households. More than two-thirds of seniors without PCs says they simply don’t see the need. When many of them were children, their parents gave the same response when radio and TV were introduced. But this attitude almost always changes with the recognition that such technology presents the opportunity to be employed in a good paying job, extend one’s independence and allow individuals to remain productive and creative. Indeed, we have witnessed tremendous receptivity to computer technology among mature Americans through our involvement in these programs. Across the country, senior centers, libraries, and community colleges are packed with seniors who have the desire to learn.

At Microsoft, we call this,
“PC Empowerment.”
It is a real and powerful concept, and we feel privileged to be in a position to help enable people to use PC and Internet technologies to improve the way we live, work, play and learn. Computers are not just about working and productivity but are about living and participating in the community. And people who are empowered by PCs become successful contributors to society, to their communities and to the whole economy.

This story is best told in human terms. It’s the story of the housebound widower who can access a wealth of benefits and services through the World Wide Web and do data entry work on her schedule. It’s the story of Milton Garland, GreenThumb’s award Prime Time Award winner who at 102 still reports to work every day. It’s the story of the Native American tribe in North Dakota that archived the wisdom of its elders by putting tribal history, language and culture online for future generations. It’s the story of how seniors have used email and document collaboration to job-share with younger generations, mentoring and sharing their experience with them while remaining active in their chosen careers.

Why is this important? From our research, we have heard a common theme from mature computer users. Seniors see computers as an integral part of their success, continued independent living and employability — all key requirements in today’s society for any age group. The challenge is that in many cases these benefits are realized only if one uses and embraces technology.

This is our challenge: How do we communicate the virtues of computers and technology to mature Americans? We have realized the need for a
“generational perspective”
so that we learn seniors’ viewpoints and attitudes. I have learned that this generation’s view of technology is dramatically different from that of the Baby Boomers or Generation X segments of the population. Even though some older Americans have shied away from computers, growing numbers recognize that technology enables the flexibility and mobility they desire.

Many young, middle-aged and able-bodied workers telecommute, logging in to their office network from home. Likewise, PC technology enables seniors to work remotely from their homes where they’re likely more comfortable. This technology can help all Americans live a better life — and mature Americans are no exception. The challenge ahead of us lies in demonstrating the benefits of technology, and working to create an environment where they are encouraged to embrace it. The benefits will accrue not only to the lives of seniors, but to the country as a whole as we enter the 21 st century.

Mr. Chairman, I thank again you for this opportunity to share Microsoft’s views with the Committee, and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Related Posts