Microsoft is Empowering Older Americans to Live More Productive and Independent Lives Through Technology
At a recent meeting of the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, Craig Spiezle, Microsoft’s director of market development, was invited to explain how the Internet and personal computer (PC) technology can extend the working years of older Americans while helping them lead richer and more productive personal lives.
Citing author and business management guru Peter Drucker, Spiezle told the committee that fewer Americans today are retiring at age 55 or 60. An increasing number remain employed well into their 70s and beyond – and this trend will continue.
“While many choose to continue working, others work because they cannot afford to retire,” Spiezle said. “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.”
According to Spiezle, not only is that important for many older Americans, it is also vital for the U.S. economy. 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 8 percent of our national output. A major impediment to continued economic growth, however, is the shortage of skilled, high-technology workers.
“Right now, over 340,000 high-tech jobs are going unfilled in the United States,” Spiezle said. “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.”
Microsoft sees America’s senior community as an important national asset that can help achieve the goal of building a skilled workforce to meet the needs of the U.S. economy.
“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,” Spiezle said.
Microsoft recently completed more than 700 “Lifetime Connections” seminars in conjunction with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and with support from SeniorNet, which introduced more than 70,000 seniors to the world of computers and the Internet. Microsoft also has been working closely with organizations such as Green Thumb and the National Council on Aging to develop widespread training programs to help thousands of seniors, dislocated and disadvantaged workers learn the skills they need to re-enter the workforce and begin new careers.
“We are not talking about technology simply for technology’s sake,” Spiezle said. “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 60 represent the fastest growing segment of computer and Internet users, yet fewer than 5 percent of senior households own and actively use a computer, compared to 45 percent of U.S. households overall. More than two-thirds of seniors without PCs say 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,” Spiezle told the senators. “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.”
According to Spiezle, research among older Americans who do use PCs shows that seniors see computers as an integral part of their success, continued independent living and employability.
“This technology can help all Americans live a better life – and mature Americans are not exception,” Spiezle said. “The challenge ahead of us lies in demonstrating the benefits of technology [to older Americans], and working to create an environment where they are encouraged to embrace it.”