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Training older people

By JAMES COAKES Published 31st Jul 2014
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One of the major challenges associated with the training of older people is the difficulty of actually getting them enrolled in training courses. According to the CDC, older workers are far less likely to participate in any kind of training. While younger workers may spend an average of 35 hours a year in training, this figure drops to just 9 hours for older workers. The perceptions of both employers and employees may be limiting the uptake of training by older workers. Older people may be perceived to need less training because of their greater working experience or simply to lack the motivation and ability to continue learning. Simple ageism can deter employers from offering training and make older employees feel that they will not be supported if they attempt to learn more, but placing older people at a disadvantage by refusing to train them is a shortsighted and unlawful approach, as Acas explains.

Even when older employees are able to overcome these barriers and enter into training, they can still encounter issues that younger learners do not face. Older learners may need more assistance balancing work, family, and learning commitments for example. The NUS reports that 83% of mature students in part or full time formal education named this as their biggest challenge. Help with study skills was also highlighted as particularly important.

Different approaches to learning may also be needed. Training that builds on previous experience, and which focuses on practical tasks rather than lectures or book study, may be more appropriate and older people might need more help adapting to new technologies, according to Carol Bean in the Journal of eLiteracy. Only 58% of 50-64 year olds use the internet, compared to 75% of those aged 30-49, so basic terms and skills often need to be introduced.

Older people may require clearer definitions of terms, particularly computing terms, that seem self-explanatory to younger learners, less rote learning, slower presentation methods and more time to practice new skills. However, City and Guilds notes that older people often have better abstract reasoning, verbal abilities, judgment and background knowledge, and that many of the cognitive skills that decline with age do so simply through lack of practice. Older people whose training has previously been neglected may to struggle with the role of trainee, but those who have been well trained throughout their working lives may be particularly quick and adept learners.

Investing in training older employees is a valuable practice that employers need to pursue in order to make the most of their workforce, particularly as more people stay in work for longer. The proportion of older workers in the US has risen from 22% to 28% in the last 15 years, according to City and Guilds, and could reach 30% by 2020. More than a third of older workers intend to continue working in some form during retirement. Dan Woog, writing for Monster suggests that older people have as much to teach their younger colleagues as they have to learn from the modern workplace. The loyalty, independence and interpersonal skills of older workers can make the workplace a happier and more productive space when mixed with the flexibility, diversity and ambitions of younger, tech-savvy workers.

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