Age is no barrier

will be challenged if older staff are excluded from development opportunities.
Margaret Kubicek looks at the legal position

Age discrimination legislation is not due to be introduced until 2006, but
employers must be prepared now for the new laws – expected to cover some 20
different areas of employment policy, including training and career

The new age laws will rank ageism alongside other forms of discrimination,
such as sex or race. When it comes to training, compliance is about more than
just removing age restrictions from training and development initiatives – a
move many organisations made years ago. What is called for is a complete review
of how training is designed and provided with regard to age.

"The assumptions have been that it is more difficult for older workers
to pick up skills – which is stereotyping – and that if you invest in an older
worker you won’t get a return on your investment," says Samantha Mercer,
campaign director for Employers’ Forum on Age (EFA), which has produced a
toolkit to facilitate employers in undertaking a comprehensive age equality

"But assuming mandatory retirement is abolished, there will be no
justification for holding back on training for employees in, say, their late
50s," she adds.

The challenge for employers is to find out why certain age groups are being
excluded from development opportunities and address any imbalances; it could
well be that employees are excluding themselves. "The culture of not
investing in older workers creates a culture of no demand, and you get people
eventually conforming to stereotypes," says Mercer.

She believes companies need to do more in the way of age profiling who is
being offered training and who is not taking it up. Priority should also be
given to assess who is carrying out the training and what kind is being
offered, to determine whether a certain style is not suiting older employees.

BT has recently started using the EFA toolkit to help prepare for the new
legislation. "It promotes best practice and gives companies the
opportunity to review exactly what their policies and procedures are around
age," says Becky Mason, employment policy consultant for BT. "It
makes you question what you are doing and why."

The Royal Bank of Scotland helped pilot the forum’s toolkit at the end of
last year, using it to undertake an age audit of all the company’s businesses.
As a result, several key learning points were identified, which will now inform
development of a new wide-ranging diversity training programme for the bank,
says group diversity manager Amanda Jones. She believes the improvement of
monitoring around age is critical. "Organisations need to ask, ‘does the
amount of training being undertaken match the age range in the

HSBC has been looking beyond the design and age distribution of its training
courses, coaching and mentoring, says group head of diversity Sue Jex. "We
are also looking at learning centres and usage, and e-learning and usage, but a
bit deeper than that. We’re looking at what actually motivates people to learn
by doing some focus groups among post-50s employees."

The aim of the focus groups is to design benefits that are attractive to
older workers, including training and development opportunities. Like most
efforts to generalise, however, identifying what kinds of training appeal to
particular age groups can be difficult. But there is one criteria for post-50s
on which everyone agrees: flexibility.

"Most people in that age group are at the peak of their careers, and
will have tremendous demands on them," says David Towler, principal and
CEO of Cambridge Online Learning. "Older age groups want to be in charge
of their learning and be able to pick it up and do it when they want to."

A recent survey by Cambridge Online Learning suggests that younger employees
are more concerned about levels of support on courses than their older
colleagues and are motivated by better job and salary prospects. In contrast,
older employees appear not so driven by self-interest, preferring courses with
relevance to real-life work.

"Given that a lot of older workers are at their peak in terms of
knowledge and experience, any training has to be relevant to the job they’re
doing now," adds Towler. "Employees are focusing on getting up the
ladder early in their careers, but by the age of 50 they know they are as far
as they are going to go. They want help with their job here and now, not a job
that’s going to be at the top of the ladder."

Mercer warns employers to be careful not to attempt to address age
imbalances by positive discrimination. She emphasises the benefits of being
proactive about age, rather than just reacting to new legislation.

"All of this is about recognising the value that age diversity can
bring to the business," says Jones. "There’s a lot of research that
shows the broader your diversity agenda, the more creative and productive your
people will be."

Thinking about age

The Employers Forum on Age has designed a toolkit to facilitate
organisations in undertaking age equality policy reviews. It consists of 20
checklists on key employment issues such as recruitment, career development and
retirement – enabling organisations to gauge whether their employment decisions
and policies are based on ability, not age.

– Do you know whether there is a diverse range of ages within
your training team?

– Are staff nominated by managers for training programmes? If
yes, can you find evidence that this is free of age bias?

– If self-nominating, are staff of all ages encouraged to take
up training?

– Would you know if certain age groups were excluding
themselves from training?

– Does your training provision reflect different learning
styles to suit different age groups?

– If you buy in training, has the content, relevance and
currency of the courses been reviewed for age awareness recently?

Source: Training checklist from ‘One Step Ahead’, EFA,

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