The 2009 US Census Bureau Report predicted that the global population of people over the age of 65 will nearly triple by 2050, far outpacing all other age groups. This “graying” of the population has many far-reaching effects, including how we will train and retain talent in the workforce in the years to come. In a 2012 study, published by the Journal of Aging & Social Policy, economics professors from Widener University sought to better understand the connection between providing job training to older workers and their overall job satisfaction. The results were clear: far and away from all other variables, overall job satisfaction among older workers was most influenced by the training opportunities afforded to them.
The study focused on a group of workers born prior to 1964, measuring their perceived job satisfaction and how it related to the quality and quantity of training provided. The results were conclusive. As anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in the workforce could likely attest to, the more training opportunities afforded to the workers – and the higher the perceived quality of the training – the higher overall job satisfaction those workers were likely to experience. It comes as no surprise that this is especially true for the older demographic.
The last few decades have seen greater technological advances in a more concentrated period of time than any before it. A great majority of these new advancements have come to be employed in the workplace to improve efficiency and production. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast rate of advancement in technology, even in a specialized field. New employees entering the workforce receive recent and relevant training which is integrated with the newer technology, but older workers were trained prior to many of these advancements. It is for this reason that older workers have the most to gain from on-the-job training. Many of the aging workforce have spent decades learning their industries and trades, but yet they also may have been left behind by their employers when it comes to receiving vital continuing education. The study noted that workers age 55 and over have traditionally received less than half of the number of hours of employer-provided training that their counterparts aged 25 to 34 have enjoyed.
This is a problem which, if not corrected, will have far-reaching consequences in the corporate world. The problem will only be further compounded by the increase in the 55 and up age group in the workforce expected to follow as a result of the aging population overall. The percentage of workers in the United States over the age of 55 is predicted to increase by up to 24% by 2018. As the mean age continues to rise, so too will the percentage of “older” workers in the US. Along with the workplace technology boom have come amazing medical advancements, allowing people the freedom and quality of life to continue working much later than ever before. If employers drag their feet on providing integral education to older workers, they will find themselves at a great disadvantage in the future, and are in fact already doing themselves a great disservice.
Why are employers not providing older workers with the same training as younger hires? It comes down to an outdated reluctance on their part. The study lists two of these concerns regarding training the 55 and up group on the employers’ part: the belief that older individuals will be less capable of learning the new material and the feeling that older workers will be retiring quickly, and therefore not working long enough to justify the cost and time invested into their training. The first belief – that older employees are not capable of learning the new material (particularly as it relates to technology) – is simply false. While the 55 and up group may learn the material more slowly than their younger peers, studies have found no difference in their ability to do so overall.
The second belief is antiquated. As previously stated, workers are now working longer than ever, and the percentage of older workers in the workforce is drastically increasing. Not providing adequate training opportunities for older workers will leave employers in the lurch. What’s more is that studies have actually found that older workers are dramatically more loyal to employers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the Baby Boomer generation held an average of 11 jobs between the ages of 18 and 44, where young adults in the workforce now change jobs roughly every two years. By providing training for younger workers, employers are essentially training their employees for their next jobs. If they were to extend the same opportunities to older workers, they would maximize the results of the training within the organization by targeting the employees most likely to remain there.
Education is a life-long process, and thankfully it is now more convenient than ever to find resources for learning. As the Widener University study showed, it has become apparent that the key to job satisfaction for older workers lies in access to job training. As the 55 and up demographic continues to become more and more important to the workforce, it’s imperative that the emphasis be put on reversing the trend in workplace culture of employers doing a poor job of providing training opportunities for their most veteran employees. As it stands now, the employees who could benefit the most from workplace training are the ones least likely to be receiving it, and that is going to increasingly pose problems for employers as the workforce continues to gray.