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Promoting lifelong learning for older workers
An international overview

Tarja Tikkanen and Barry Nyhan (editors)

Executive summary

The distinctive feature of this book is that it addresses the issue of older workers from a lifelong learning perspective. This is novel as traditionally studies on older workers and ageing have been strongly influenced by a medical view, defining ageing in terms of physical and mental decline. This book challenges traditional mind?sets about older workers and learning. The central argument is that society, work organisations and individuals must think of ageing as a lifelong learning and developmental process in which one continuously takes on new life challenges, in line with one’s interests, opportunities and limitations. In the context of work, this means understanding learning as a broad, holistic concept encompassing individual education and training, but equally, and perhaps more importantly, also entailing participative collective workplace learning that is actively supported by employers.

This book has a general introductory purpose as research on this theme has only begun to emerge. Although some research has been carried out on older workers and lifelong learning in Europe and beyond, it is rather scattered and, in several countries, hardly exists. The purpose of this book is to address this gap by providing an overview of discussions at the crossroads of the two topics – older workers and lifelong learning –that, so far, have been the subject of separate discourses. 

The main focus of this book is on European approaches and experiences. However, with contributions from scholars in other continents, Australia, Japan and the US, the European perspective can be reviewed in a broader international context.
Contributors to this book emphasise and discuss issues related to the following points:

  • as the emerging knowledge society is increasingly becoming a ‘greying society’, there is a need to change attitudes towards ageing and its effects;
  • for lifelong learning to become a reality for older workers, ordinary workplaces must become primary places of learning. This raises important issues about employers’ roles in promoting lifelong learning; 
  • workplaces must be designed in such a way that it is possible for people to ‘grow older’ at work. Organisational solutions play a critical role in older workers’ willingness to continue working. Employers, together with trade unions, can play a central role in fostering continuous learning and promoting ‘age?friendly workplaces’ that promote learning;
  • a strong learning culture in the workplace makes employees more receptive to change, regardless of age;
  • older workers tend to relate their competence to personal or individual characteristics and work?related issues rather than purely to age. 
Regarding the central messages emerging from this book, policy changes related to the following three points are seen as crucial:
  • adapting new attitudes to ageing and learning in working life and society;
  • building inclusive and learning supportive workplaces for people as they grow older;
  • creating partnerships between all stakeholders in society to address the demographic learning challenge. 
With regard to the last point, the need for coordinated social and economic policies and actions to promote ‘active ageing’ has been emphasised by the European Commission, OECD and ILO. This calls for cooperation between public bodies, employers, trade unions and civil society to address the agenda of ‘age?friendly’ employment and educational policies. However, there is no blueprint for the way forward. Each community and organisation must find its own pathway based on a dialogue with all stakeholders, listening, in particular, to the views of the older workers themselves.

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Editor: Sabine Manning
First set up: 27/11/2006
Latest update: 27/11/2006