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Online Learning Will Help Reskill Older Workers for an AI Future

An older woman sitting at a desk in an office.

​The demands created by a shortage of skilled IT workers and the fast pace of change brought on by advances in technology will compel older workers to improve their technological proficiencies as companies seek to stay competitive by closing skills gaps.

At Skillable, which offers a web-based training platform with hands-on virtual labs and real-time scoring, founder and executive chairman Corey Hynes said there are two questions that employers have to ask when they plan to reskill or upskill older workers.

"First, how do you ensure your current older workers are able to remain employable and productive in an increasingly digitized future?" Hynes said. "Second, how do you attract 'unretirees' who may be returning to a very different, digital workplace?"

Hynes said the challenge is ensuring today's older workers have the skills for the digital tasks they need to do daily while preparing for emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, robotics and other cutting-edge technologies. 

"At a basic level, though, every worker, regardless of age, needs to know how to work alongside whatever digital transformation their workplace has implemented," Hynes said. "That may be a new digital way to manage documents, data analytics, automation and robotics, cloud computing, and so forth."

The increasing longevity, low birth rates and a growing number of older people who want to work longer have created a paradigm shift across the global workforce.

Countries such as France and Britain have raised their pension age. A report from Bain & Company states that by 2031, Japanese employees ages 55 and older will make up nearly 40 percent of the workforce. In China, the number of adults 65 and older will double by 2050.

In recent decades Americans have delayed their retirement plans. According to Gallup, in 1991 U.S. retirees, on average, retired at age 57. Currently, the average reported retirement age is 61.

As inflation rises and older workers realize they haven't saved enough for retirement, many are forced to continue earning a paycheck. To make the most out of the last decades of their work life, many older employees are picking up skills in areas such as machine learning, cybersecurity, cloud management and data analytics.

Relying on interviews with more than 40,000 employees in 19 countries, Bain's report notes that almost a quarter of those interviewed, 22 percent in the age group 55 to 64, said they need more tech skills.

At Coursera, a global online learning platform, Chief Learning Officer Trena Minudri said some older workers possess the steadiness and maturity to stabilize the workplace and to mentor younger colleagues during times of rapid technological change.

"Human skills such as critical thinking, organizational context and leadership that many older workers possess will become increasingly important in an AI-driven world," Minudri said.

To tap into older workers' talent as well as to grow their IT skills, Coursera provides 40 entry-level professional certificates designed by leading companies such as Google, IBM, and Microsoft for people without a college degree or prior experience in a particular field.

Minudri said these industry micro-credentials prepare workers for well-paying entry-level jobs in fields like IT support, cybersecurity and software development. Each certificate program takes roughly six months to complete when learning part time at 10 hours per week.

"These credentials are particularly suited for people looking to start or change careers, or employers looking to reskill employees in impacted roles. For older workers with more professional experience in a relevant role, they can offer a fast-track to a career change or career progression," she added.

Coursera estimates that in the last year over 10 percent of enrollments from U.S. learners over age 50 have been in courses related to IT skills.

For those who are designing an IT learning program for older adults, Minudri suggests they should: 

*Use a multi-model approach that incorporates peer-to-peer learning. Many older workers are used to learning in a classroom, not on a computer. A blended approach that incorporates online learning, peer-to-peer learning and hands-on experience is often the most effective.

*Emphasize relevance. Provide opportunities for learners to practice their new skills and apply them in real-world scenarios. Older workers often want to learn skills they can apply to their current job or career goals.

*Provide support and feedback to keep learners motivated and engaged. New technologies can be intimidating for anyone, but especially for older workers. It's important that the training program offers a welcoming environment where learners feel safe to ask questions, discuss ideas, make mistakes and learn at their own pace.

Minudri also suggested that IT skills training should "offer ongoing support, coaching and feedback to help older learners adapt and master new skills. That includes celebrating individual and team successes along the way and providing recognition for their accomplishments to keep learners motivated and engaged."

On the recruiting side, RocketPower, a talent management company based in San Francisco, is working with their clients to understand their learning and development opportunities.

"Career development opportunities are a critical factor in terms of choosing to join a new company," said Tommy Jenkins, RocketPower's vice president of recruitment. "Older workers with IT skills want to know who are the companies working with? What technologies are they going to be using? What new technologies are they going to be learning? And is there an ability to learn and time to learn those technologies?"

Jenkins added that companies evaluate whether they are going to train workers based on whether an investment in training will get workers to the point where they can add value. By the same token, older job applicants want to know if a company will invest in their training to enable them to do the job well.

"Candidates ask whether they'll receive IT training, and that's something we ask our client companies," Jenkins said. "If companies say yes, that's information we can use to convince older job seekers to move to a new opportunity."

Nicole Lewis is a freelance journalist based in Miami. 


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