March 9, 2006 10:52 AM PST

Intel's Barrett: U.K. needs more 'silver surfers'

Older people need to improve their IT skills if they are going to succeed in the job market and access public services in the future, according to chip giant Intel.

Intel said it is working with U.K. charity Age Concern to reduce the barriers preventing older people from using computers, and it's encouraging its partners to develop products that are more attractive to "silver surfers."

A far lower portion of people over the age of 50 in the U.K. own PCs than in the United States, which means an untapped market for the chip company.

Digital exclusion is a type of social exclusion that is only going to increase unless we do something about it, said Ailsa Ogilvie, Age Concern's membership director.

Intel Chairman Craig Barrett said the majority of jobs require IT skills, so older people need training and experience with technology.

"If you want this age group to be active members of economic society then knowledge is key," he said.

These skills will also be needed for access to services, Barrett said. "The interaction of this age group with government and health care is going to increasingly require that they have IT capabilities and experience," he added.

"About 50 percent of over-50s in the U.S. have bought something online--that's dramatically higher than the equivalent (group) here," he said.

In contrast, according to research conducted by Intel, 44 percent of those over 50 in the U.K.--around 8.4 million people--don't even have access to a computer.

Barrett, 66, said Intel is also examining its marketing to older people. "I don't think anyone has done a reasonable job marketing technology to the older set," he said.

"If there is a large category that is underserved, and they are not responding to the marketing message, then you probably change the market message," he added.

In May, Age Concern will be holding Silver Surfer Week to encourage older people to use computers. It's also offering 10,000 Internet "taster" sessions.

Steve Ranger of Silicon.com reported from London.

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