Head of Learning Innovation, Huthwaite International | Senior Consultant, Learnworks Ltd
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Older Workers - a resource worth investing in?

29th Mar 2012
Head of Learning Innovation, Huthwaite International | Senior Consultant, Learnworks Ltd
Columnist
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A report out today from Cranfield School of Management and Nottingham Business School detailing the failure of UK organisations to ‘engage older workers’. The result – according Dr Emma Parry,  the report’s author – of stereotypical attitudes which are embedded in organisational attitudes to both older workers and their younger colleagues.

ACAS who sponsored the report argue for ‘clear career development options for older workers’.
A couple of years ago I was commissioned to write the e-learning strategy for a government agency. I surveyed the attitudes of employees to online learning and found some interesting – and, I freely admit – unexpected outcomes. Those most in favour of learning online were not Generation Y (or for those with teenagers at home, “Generation O-oh, Why-y?”) Those in the survey aged 45 to 55 were far more positive about learning online and having opportunities to plot their own development using online tools. 
The use of blended learning – linking online resources to other courses and development was also widely favoured by the older employees. There was one fairly large fly in that particular ointment, though. Of those in the over 45 age bracket, not one had regular access to a coach. In an organisation which laid great store on senior staff and line managers coaching their team members there was a paradigm which suggested such one to one support was available only for those recently out of college or those on the way up through the ranks. Those who had plateaued in their career were considered beyond the reach of any training other than the minimum of check box compliance courses, with little or no work-based follow up.
Most of these survey respondents were in the 45 to 50 age group. For many of those a future working life of 25 years may not be that far- fetched. Despite this reality, the focus of L&D activity was firmly on younger, new entrants who were likely to stay in role for only 2 to 3 years before moving on. 
Certainly when I have had the opportunity to deliver courses to a mixed age range group, the enthusiasm and insights of the slightly greyer haired participants is always welcome. In fact, with their experience and stories they can be a really useful addition to the programme. Ignoring the “old dogs, new tricks” stereotypes introduces the trainer to a group who can also develop and respond positively to a changing work environment.
Harnessing their potential as learners may require different techniques to those used when we only focus on the bright young things who haven’t seen it all before and haven’t got more experience than the trainer. But it’s a really stimulating challenge and one that trainers should be happy to embrace.
With over a third of a million workers over pensionable age in the workforce, it’s one we’d better get to grips with pretty quickly.
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