Training your older staff

As the workforce grows ever more mature, organisations must be aware of the training issues this will generate.

You must have been living on the moon for the past decade if you’re unaware of the impending demographic timebomb facing employers. But, if you’re ignorant of this, here are a few statistics.

By 2030, according to the British Occupational Health Research Foundation, half of the UK population will be aged over 50. What’s more, HR consultancy Aon Consulting recently estimated that the number of workers aged between 65 and 70 will treble to three million by 2017.

Meanwhile, market intelligence firm Keynote says that in 2006 only 12% of staffbetween 50 and 64 received job-related training compared with almost 24% of workers aged 16 to 19 and 21% of employees in the 20–24 age bracket.

Staying competitive

So, while the working population gets older, most training is likely to be targeted at younger employees. This situation must change if companies are to remain competitive, says Keith Frost, business manager at The Age and Employment Network (TAEN), a charity thataimsto help organisations take advantage ofdemographic change.

“Employers will have to retrainand takeon people froman older age profile than they have been used to,” he says.

But if learning and development departments are to welcome an increasing number of mature workers, should they approach them any differently than younger staff?

Frost believes there are steps trainers can take to help older workers who may not have been on a training course for several years, by removing the risks from the learning experience.Employing a trainer of a similar age is one way of making the first steps back into a training environment less threatening for candidates over 50, says Frost. Cutting training programmes down into manageable modules is also a good idea, he says.

On-the-job skills

Frost would like to see companies that are contemplating retraining older workers to recognise their past learning and accredit skills they have learned on the job over the years.

“In this country we give more credit to qualifications than skills. By accrediting past learning, you put the older employee on a better footing and make them feel more valued,” he says.

Christine Elgood, managing director at training company Elgood Effective Learning, says finding what motivates older candidates will make the training more palatable.“Younger people, between say 20 and 35, are – to a certain extent – driven by ambition and money to do well in the company. But older workers have different priorities and it’s easier to train them in something they have a natural ability in,“ she says.

Elgood says that older people learn better if they are able to find things out for themselves. E-learning promotes this way of working. Another option is to distribute learning materials a few days before a course so older staff can digest the information and prepare in their own time.

People as individuals

But at the Employers Forum on Age, spokeswoman Rachel Krys believes older people should not be singled out when it comes to training. “We need to detachage from training and concentrate on people as individuals,” she says.

This philosophy has been adopted by several employers, such as HSBC bank (see case study below) and DIY retailer B&Q, both renowned for being progressive when it comes to taking on older staff.

At B&Q, where one-quarter of its 38,000 staff are aged over 50, talent and employment policy manager Tara Brady says there is no differentiation on the grounds of age from a training point of view. “We’ve developed our own learning and development programmes that are accessible to all,” she says.

For example, all store staff have to complete the company’s customer adviser learning and development framework, which is delivered through e-learning and coaching, and is broken into bite-size chunks.

“This enables people to learn at their own pace and is useful for part-time workers,” saysBrady.

“Many of our part-timers are older workers, but so are many of our younger ones,” she adds.

Case study: HSBC

When it comes to developing older employees at international bank HSBC, UK diversity manager Elaine Bromberg says the company does not go out of its way to treat them any differently to other members of the workforce.

But what it does do is offer a blended learning programme – accessible online – that provides different types of training that will suit almost anybody in the organisation.

This means people can choose the type of training they feel suits them best, without age being an issue.

HSBC also runs online academies, which allow employees to build their own personal development programme. Through a self-assessment questionnaire, users are able to find out where they are in the organisation and then match this against the skills of a position they would like to aim for.

“Regardless of age, this is one way of getting staff to think about their career development,” says Bromberg.

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