People are living longer and working longer and these changes demand a rethink when it comes to work. In the U.S., the population aged 65 and older is expected to more than double between 2012 and 2060. Advances in healthcare have led to an increased life expectancy, which although positive for the population in general, has also led to a need to rethink the demographics of a workforce. At the moment, there are about 9 million workers in the US aged 65 and over and this figure is expected to almost triple by 2050. It is imperative that employers, governments and organizations work together to create a functioning ‘silver economy’. The OECD defines this as – “an environment in which the over-60 interact and thrive in the workplace, engage in innovative enterprise, and lead healthy and productive lives.” Considering the demographic shift that is currently underway, getting the silver economy to function is hugely important to the global economy moving forward.
The combination of an aging workforce with cutting edge business digital age developments presents significant challenges for employers in any industry. There is a responsibility on an employer to make sure workers are aware of why improvements in technology need to be made, and why some workers may need training. Employers need to be empathetic to their worker’s concerns. Many aging workers may be technologically savvy and ready to embrace new ways of doing things. But for some workers, being told to change their long-held way of doing things is not a welcome development and can cause a lot of stress. Employers can do a lot to ease that stress by helping workers learn new skills and ultimately improve the productivity of the workforce in general.
1) Foster a learning environment
This is the probably the most important thing an employer can do to help aging workers get integrated into the digital age. It should be easy for older workers to get training. Employers want skilled workers so there should not be any obstacles to navigate for workers who want to be up-skilled. An employer should lay out the reasons why training is essential to improve work practices. Employees are less likely to be suspicious of training opportunities if the reasons are transparent and put forward in good faith. Making mistakes early in the creation of a learning environment can lead to losing the trust of workers and set back the training process significantly.
It might be good to implement a system that includes rewards and penalties for workers undergoing training. This is directly related to getting people on board and getting them to trust the training process being implemented. Emphasizing the advantages that come from training through internal and external communication is good for morale within the company, as are rewards like perks and compensation for workers who get training in new digital age technology. A clearly set out plan for penalties might be a good option to consider. These should be a last resort but can be a useful way to counter anyone who is especially resistant to the adoption of digital age technology.
2) Make training easy
The training process for workers needs to be as simple and straightforward as possible. A common myth is that older workers don’t want to learn new skills but this is not the case. Workers are keen on training but need to feel in control of their own learning, not that it is being forced on them. Flexible training is ideal for most older workers, with the ability to complete some portion at home being a major plus. Inclusivity should be a central objective of all worker training programs, especially if it’s aimed at aging workers. The majority of US workers now plan to work past the age of 65, so it’s impossible for employers to ignore these workers or to take them for granted. Making access to training easier for workers is the best way to achieve this goal. Digital technology can be an aid to employers as it allows for online training, with built-in flexibility, allowing workers to learn new skills in the comfort of their own home and at their own pace.
3) Generational awareness
It is important not to group all older workers together as one homogeneous category with an identical skill set. aging workers, like all workers, have different levels of knowledge and learn in different ways. Generational awareness is key. It’s important not to stereotype older workers as some aging workers may be technologically savvy. Some workers who are technologically skilled may feel that the training they are asked to is too basic and feel insulted. This can have a knock-on effect to the morale of the workforce and can damage the learning environment for all workers within the company. Quite often it is good to have an individual plan for a worker so their specific needs are met. Using a flexible and customizable training program is beneficial as it allows employers to create tailored training programs that suit different worker’s needs.
4) Choose technology carefully
This applies to the technology used to train workers and the technology workers are being trained to use! Choose a training management software that simple and intuitive for workers and is customizable for the needs of all workers. The easier the the software is for a contractor to use, the faster and more widespread is the adoption rate. Consider the areas that you are focusing on in your training. For example, training and development for automation is a major HR focus, with 54% of HR leaders viewing it as a priority for the next five years, according to Capita Resourcing. Be sure to carefully consider all the technological alternatives before implementing new equipment or software. There is little point in applying needlessly complicated technological solutions as they may alienate workers and prove to be inefficient in the long-term.
5) Make it part of the routine
It is good practice for an employer to institutionalize the routine of training and up-skilling within the company. This goes hand in hand with fostering a learning environment where workers feel empowered to get training in new technologies. It is also important to make the use of digital technology part of the work routine of the company. Using digital technology at work should be the rule, not the exception. This also acts to “implicitly raise the cost of not using the new technology”, by making it far more complicated for workers not to use technology, according to Michael C. Mankins, the leader of organization practice at Bain and Company.
Ignoring older workers is not the answer to creating a workforce fit for the digital age. People are working longer than ever and aging workers are making up an ever greater portion of the workforce. This is not necessarily a problem as older workers bring a wealth of experience that is invaluable to any company, but new business technology does represent a challenge to a lot of older workers. The different skill levels and knowledge bases of older workers also creates challenges for employers and proves the importance of having a flexible, customizable training management solution. An employer should invest in training for aging workers as a way to integrate them into the digital age, while leveraging the professional experience they bring to the table.