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Hidden value in upskilling mature-aged employees

World-wide, age diversity rarely figures in organisational diversity programs.  As a result, organisations often have limited understanding of how mature-aged workers fare in relation to professional development and upskilling compared to their younger colleagues.

Because age diversity has received less attention than other diversity elements such as gender, LGBTQI+ and ethnicity, it is usually not an established component of corporate training and development. In a 2015 study undertaken by Professionals Australia, more than 40 percent of respondents reported that their employer did not offer development and training to mature-aged professionals while more than 24 percent said that employers were investing in developing younger staff rather than older staff.

There are compelling reasons why this situation needs to change.

Professor Marian Baird, speaking recently about a new study into mature-aged workers and organisations, said that men 55-64 felt they had “less opportunity to upgrade their skills and engage in training and development”. This is possibly because providing development and training for mature-aged workers is often not perceived to provide a ‘return on investment’ because of assumptions about retirement. Yet turnover levels of mature-aged workers are also significantly lower than for millennials (6 percent compared to more than 50 percent). This suggests that training and development for older cohorts may actually prove to be a prudent investment. Upskilling in organisations could potentially help fill skills gaps, reducing the need for expensive recruitment processes.   

From an individual perspective, life-long learning and training have been shown to be beneficial to maintaining and increasing employment rates.  According to some research, qualifications gained in later life are as good, and in some cases, better especially for mature-aged workers seeking employment.  Mature-aged workers who undertake training either in their workplace or as a result of their own initiative are more likely to be in continued employment compared to those not undertaking training.

Older employees also indicate they want training and development.  One study indicates that 8 in 10 workers aged 45 to 64 believe that learning a new skill is an essential part of their ideal job, and 7 in 10 say on-the-job training is equally important to them.

Rethinking training and development could help meet the needs of employees of all ages. Suggestions include considering intergenerational methods such as mentoring and reverse mentoring (where younger employees mentor older employees), networking and intergenerational cross-training.  Individual career development plans may also assist mature-aged workers to identify training specifically relevant to them.

In the light of an aging workforce, tackling the barriers to upskilling and training is both an economic and social necessity.

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