No more generation games

As the workforce gets older, boosted by impending age discrimination
legislation, employers need to consider their staff’s changing skills needs.
Margaret Kubicek asks if training initiatives will help

Latest research into age issues in the workforce compiled by the Employers’
Forum on Age and Penna Sanders & Sidney highlights a host of questions
facing employers as working life is extended by longer life spans and by
employees’ anxieties about pension provision.

Employers must adapt to the needs of ‘Generation Flex’ – not considered
‘over the hill’ now until 49 – and the UK must introduce age discrimination
legislation by 2006 which may make mandatory retirement illegal. With these
tensions in mind, we ask how can employers make the most of older workers’
skills and keep them up to date?

Samantha mercer
Campaign director, Employers’ Forum on Age

There have been arguments about return on investment with regard to training
older workers, but if you don’t have fixed ages at which people have to leave
the workforce, the argument that it won’t be worth training them at 58 because
they might leave at 60 just doesn’t hold water anymore.

Different age groups need to be taught in different ways. I don’t think you
can make generalisations about what is best for each age group, though I think
mixed age learning environments are beneficial. Employers need to be talking to
the individuals they are training and learning from others what works. People
have different learning styles – employers need to be aware of that and supply
appropriate training.

Julia Davies
Consultant, Penna Sanders & Sidney

People are having to work much longer and I think that is going to
pressurise employers to offer different, more flexible ways of working. The training
they offer needs to support that; for example career management workshops to
help people consider their different options.

We encourage the employee to take control of their career and through that
they need to work out what will keep up their enthusiasm – it may be things
like taking a sabbatical, or doing more studies.

Caroline Waters
Director of employment policy, BTGroup

In high-tech areas where training is expensive, there could be a case for
not upgrading an employee. For example, if you had a 64-year-old who intended
to retire in a couple of years, if that training cost £15,000 and you had a
four- or five-year payback period, you would hope that you could mutually agree
to upskill in another area that wouldn’t be so costly.

Flexibility is the key to working in the future, both in terms of attendance
and location, particularly for older workers. It is a complex environment and
you have to add to your portfolio of training provision. In terms of topics,
you need to have training to help people manage their time and optimise the
flexible options they’re working with and, for managers, you need to look at
how to manage diverse teams of homeworkers, job sharers and so forth.

Val o’shea
HR adviser, Halifax

We haven’t felt the need to pitch training any differently for the more
mature recruit, but we have found they add value to training programmes by
using their maturity and life experiences to support the more junior members on
the course, and this continues in the workplace.

Last year we ran ‘Recruit2Train’ to meet our large-scale requirement for
Cobol developers to work in a large mainframe environment. We knew that the
scheme would attract individuals with 10 or more years’ industry experience,
but they would need training up to use the new technology platform.

Of the 25 new Cobol developers, 16 per cent are over 50. That scheme
illustrated the importance of tailoring when running programmes for older
employees. You need to consider their individual experience and build on that
in order to give – and get – value.

Ray baker
Head of social responsibility, B&Q

Thirteen years ago we opened our first store staffed only by
people over the age of 50 in Macclesfield. At the time, we believed as some
might assume, that older people would be more difficult and take longer to
train. We found that was an absolute, total myth – and if we needed any longer
it was because they wanted to do more probing, having themselves used so many
of the products we sold.

It made us look at our training programmes and modify them in light of their
life experience. It meant the trainers themselves needed to be quite sharp and
certain in what they were presenting about products.

Keith astill
Head of corporate personnel, Nationwide

Older workers have access to the same training opportunities as younger ones
– we take a common sense approach. Eighty per cent of respondents to our last
employee satisfaction questionnaire thought our career development
opportunities did not discriminate with regard to age. I’m not convinced that
older workers have different needs from younger workers, or different attitudes
– possibly with regard to technology, but generally not.


What do you think? If you have a view on the older employee,
write to the editor. Or if you have a topic you’d like to have discussed on our
Talking Points page, let us know in no more than 50 words. Send correspondence
to Stephanie Sparrow, Editor, Training Magazine, by e-mail:, fax:
020-8652 8805 or post: Training Magazine, 3rd floor, Quadrant House, The
Quadrant, Sutton, Surrey SM2 5AS. Please include full contact details so that
we can get back to you.

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