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August 21, 2006
Adapting Training for an Older Workforce

Do you have more older workers on the job these days? If you answered "yes," it's not surprising. The American population is aging, and so is the nation's workforce. People are remaining on the job longer for a number of reasons:

  • They need more money to sustain them because they are living longer.
  • They need work-provided benefits, especially in light of pressure on pensions and Social Security.
  • They seek the stimulation and sense of productivity that come from meaningful work.
  • They enjoy feeling valued for their experience and knowledge.

An aging workforce means there are more older workers to train than ever before--and that will continue to be true for many years to come. You may want to consider adapting your training to meet the special needs of an aging workforce.

Are they getting the training they need? Despite the growing number of older people in the workforce, some employers are reluctant to spend training dollars on older workers. They may think that they won't be with the company long enough to make it worthwhile, or that their experience lessens the return on training. Supervisors and managers who conduct safety training often discount older workers, too, and focus their attention on younger employees, who take more risks and have more accidents. But the fact is that older workers need all kinds of training--including safety training. With methods and technologies changing fast in so many areas, all workers need to keep their skills and knowledge up to date. Besides, your older workers are valuable employees, who tend to have a stronger sense of loyalty and commitment to the job and the organization, a better work ethic, a better attendance record, better judgment, lower turnover, and fewer accidents.

Why It Matters...
  • According to NIOSH, middle-aged and older workers will outnumber younger ones by 2010.
  • By that year, the number of employees ages 59 to 64 is expected to be 21.2 million, compared with about 14 million in 2000.
  • The number of workers 65 and older should reach about 5.4 million, up more than a million from 2000 figures.

So it just makes good business sense to make sure they get the training they need to continue to work safely and productively.

Are you doing this? Older workers learn best when training:

  • Builds on prior knowledge and experience
  • Follows a step-by-step approach
  • Allows plenty of time to assimilate information (self-paced learning is often ideal for older workers)
  • Provides handouts to be taken home for study
  • Gives an adequate opportunity for practice
  • Provides support and encouragement
  • Involves plenty of interaction, discussion, feedback, etc.
  • Provides a positive learning environment (a well-lit area, easy-to-see visual aids, good acoustics so that trainees can hear clearly, and frequent breaks to use rest rooms, etc.)

Are you making sure not to do this? Unfortunately, trainers sometimes fall into the trap of pigeonholing older workers, and as a result, the training they provide doesn't meet the needs of this important segment of the workforce. For example:

  • Don't stereotype older workers. They aren't all sitting around waiting for retirement. They are productive, competent people with lots of valuable knowledge and experience.
  • Don't assume older workers can't or don't want to learn new technologies. They can acquire the necessary skills effectively when appropriate training is available--and are often eager to do so in order to remain on the job and continue to make a meaningful contribution.
  • Don't waste time teaching them what they already know and can already do proficiently.
  • But don't assume just because of their age and experience that they don't need training. They may lack required skills or need refresher training.
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