Digital technology is a fundamental part of young workers’ lives, and they’ve achieved an experimental fearlessness when it comes to using it. They don’t read or need manuals, and they’re often more adept than the people training them.
These digital natives will take to most new technology by instinct – but they’re not the only demographic in the workplace. Three in ten over-60s are still at work, putting in an average of 29 hours per week. Meanwhile, retirement ages are steadily increasing, toward a set 67 for all genders by 2028, and potentially to 70 in the years beyond.
We live in an increasingly digital world, and have an increasingly ageing workforce. On the surface, this looks like a problem – and it continues to look like one, unless you probe the automatic assumption that digital technologies like VR are a young person’s game.
The technology gap is not so wide
The presumption that technology skews toward youth doesn’t hold up to analysis. Smartphone ownership is slightly more prevalent among 18-34s, but the position of smartphones and tablets as the flagship products of the digital age, creates an illusion that older workers are lagging behind.
This isn’t the case. Those over-55s who use social media check it every day. While older users may not be buying the cutting-edge devices, they’re using digital technology when it makes itself useful. Older workers find technology less stressful than their younger colleagues do; they’re better able to work with multiple devices; and, on average, they use more individual devices during a working week.
VR and the older worker
Forbes predicts that 2017 will see an expansion in the VR user base, which is expected to include 25 million people by 2018. What does this mean for the older members of the workforce?
On the one hand, VR presents new devices, which can be a challenge. According to the US Pew Internet Research Centre, 77% of older people need someone to walk them through setting up a new device, while many devices need subtle re-tuning to extend response times and accept less familiar or confident operation.
On the other hand, VR interfaces are based on natural movements: they’re more intuitive than a mouse and keyboard, or stabbing at icons on a touchscreen. For example, painters, musicians, designers and architects of a certain age benefit greatly from an interface which turns elements of software into physical, familiar objects. It’s a lot easier to learn new techniques if you’re able to use natural, familiar movements to practise them. This is the great strength of VR: once it’s set up, actually using it to explore and manipulate environments is experiential. Users don’t need a manual to engage with VR; it’s enough like life that their existing expertise can operate naturally within it.
VR’s potential as a tool for immersive, engaging and intuitive learning makes it a great way to teach throughout organisations, and across generations. The very nature of the technology offers familiarity and applicability to older members of the workforce; the gamified nature of early-stage VR has a similar effect for the younger.