Education, not Age, Biggest Influence on Older Workers’ Training Engagement

By Theresa Minton-Eversole Jul 24, 2008

A new AARP national survey has found that workers age 50 and over are satisfied with employer-based training programs offered to them, and they participate in those programs in large numbers.

But while two-thirds (67 percent) of workers who responded to an online survey fielded earlier this year by AARP said that they received all of the training they had desired or made no requests in the previous two years, one quarter of them reported that they were able to participate in only some of the training desired, in large part due to job-related time constraints. Another 8 percent said they were unable to participate in any of the training desired.

The inability to participate in work-based training was especially acute with low-income and less-educated individuals, according to the study, titled Investing in Training 50+ Workers: A Talent Management Strategy. For example, only 50 percent of workers with a high school degree or less had taken employer-based training within the previous two years, compared to 85 percent of workers with at least a four-year college degree.

Given the somewhat uneven participation rate, the study called for working to ensure “that training opportunities are offered and clearly communicated to all workers,” including those with less formal education. The report also suggested that organizations consider creative ways to bridge the educational barrier by making training more appealing to those with less education by customizing approaches to training, depending on workers’ needs.

Other key findings:

  • 93 percent of respondents said they enjoy learning new things, and 77 percent expressed interest specifically in work-related education.
  • The majority of 50+ workers said they were comfortable with a variety of learning methods, though classroom-based training was the preferred method.

But professional learning and skill development also must be driven by an organization’s strategic needs so that it can serve the multipurpose role of increasing individual competence and employee engagement, as well as help boost organizational capabilities. Comments recorded from additional interviews conducted with 20 human resource and training executives at companies that AARP and consulting firm Towers Perrin identified as having strong training and development programs show how this alignment of goals can be accomplished.

For example, facing impending retirement of a significant number of its older workers, Hormel has instituted a program to broaden the functional skills of its older workers so they can add variety to their jobs and take on new responsibilities within the company.

“This job enrichment, the company hopes, will encourage more experienced workers to keep working,” noted Randy Krug, Hormel’s corporate manager of learning and development, in the report.

Retailer L.L.Bean incorporates Criterion Referenced Instruction (CRI) methodology to analyze, design and develop its job training programs, whether they be online, instructor-led or self-study courses. It “allows us to create performance-based programs that ensure employees are learning only what they don’t already know.”

“For employers to be successful in recruiting and retaining 50+ workers, they will need to consider ongoing training as a key strategy, said Deborah Russell, AARP’s director of workforce issues, in a press statement announcing the study results. “Ongoing training and development is what mature workers view as a top attraction in an ideal workplace.”

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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