Individualised Training is the Key to Keeping Older Employees Working Longer

Results of Research into the Training Needs of over-45s

It can no longer be denied that we will have to work longer to keep the social security system affordable. But how can we boost older employees' ability to continue in a rewarding job until they do finally retire? The fact that training plays a crucial part here is no revelation. The training does, however, often fail in its purpose because it is not adapted to the specific expectations and needs of this target group.

This has become apparent from research conducted by Vlerick Business School together with the Belgian Federal Public Service Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue and the European Social Fund (ESF) into specific training expectations among the over-45s. The most important conclusions? To ensure a good mix of ages, to focus on their strengths instead of what they cannot (any longer) do, and to make use of their high motivation to learn more skills.

Sweden as the Example: Life-long Learning Works

According to the most recent figures from the OECD, the employment level in Belgium amounts to only 61.6%. If we look at the group of older employees the situation is plainly problematic: only 35.3% of people in the 55 to 64 age bracket are among the active working population. This puts our country 19.2% below the European average of 54.5%, tagging along at the back of the list of OECD countries for the level of employment of older employees

What we can in any case learn from front runner Sweden, where the employment level for men and women between the ages of 55 and 64 is no less than 70.1%, is that they have already been using the ‘life-long learning’ approach for a long time. Investing in training can give experienced employees both the knowledge and competence to work better and for longer in an ever-changing employment market. On turning 55 they indeed still have a career of 10 years ahead of them before they actually end their working life.

What Do Older Employees Expect from their Training?

From quality research among over-45s in Belgium it appears that experienced employees have specific desires of their training. Companies taking account of this accordingly ensure that the training offered has a greater impact and effectiveness to keep them at work longer.

1. Avoid the ‘us/them’ feeling

Older employees do not like being treated as a separate group. This not only makes them feel stigmatised, they believe that heterogeneous groups also have extra benefits for the company. On the one hand they can share their experience and practical knowledge with young people, while gaining recent theoretical knowledge and learning how to network from these young people. The only exception here is IT training, where older employees see a distinction according to age as beneficial.

2. Focus on their strengths instead of weaknesses

Older employees have their schooldays long behind them, and often do not feel comfortable during training. They are not always willing to ask questions or join in role play. They also fear having insufficient prior knowledge to be able to follow the training. A few minor moves can eliminate the uncertainty: ensure sufficient breaks, a leisurely learning tempo, small groups, course material made available beforehand, and the integration of their experience in the training. They also prefer practical, concise and step by step courses.     

3. Assume high motivation

Forget the prejudice that experienced employees are less willing to learn. They are highly motivated to follow training. The most important reasons they mention are: personal development, keeping up, social contact and enrichment. 

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