Highlight Symposium: The European perspective of HRD

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Subject Competence and learning in late career (Leif Lahn)
Outline This presentation is based on the WORKTOW project, whose theme is 'changing working life and training of older workers'. We wanted to challenge the wide-spread belief that late career is a period of decline in work performance and in learning capacity. That is the very common picture of late career. Also we looked into the need of differentiating policy of human resource development, because it is an established fact that the individual variations and the contextual variations are going with increasing age. So that is also an argument for a more differentiated approach. At the macro-political level , when we started the project, there was quite a lot of discussion about keeping older people, also the tension and social implications. This was transformed in the course of the project to considering or developing this group of employees as a productive force. We may now ask again, looking at the reserve army, facing decline, maybe economic decline, depression. 
    We have been confronted with dilemmas: the mismatch between the well-documented competence and learning ability of the workers on the one side and the rising problem of early exits on the other side. The expertise of late career is more valuable because it has some of the characteristics of social competence, of wisdom. Also the number of physically demanding jobs is declining, so there should be an increasing acknowledgement of that kind of expertise. However, there is evidence of very early exit from working life. Nick Boreham was also referring to this (see contribution). There are those surveys on the working conditions in Europe, and we have also documented this in Norway: When it comes to restructuring in working life these are enormously costly in terms of health risk and of course in terms of motivation. Very often these pathologies are attributed to learning deficiencies and burn-out. So they are focusing on the negative aspects of late career, because there is evidence that some of these working conditions that are deteriorating may affect specifically the group over fifty. 
    I think we have to have a broader understanding of why we have this kind of results within the companies. For instance, there is this figure of intensification or the concept of intensificational work that could be a summary of many of the results here. This would also be understood as less ferocity  within the working life because, for example, flexible measures of job rotation are misused because jobs are out-sources or they get slimmer, and that affects the learning opportunities in late career. 
    Also this question of attitudes to ICT and learning, with their negative effect especially when it comes to stereotypes about how older people learn or are not able to learn ICT. These are challenged by a lot of literature, but we find some very subtle mechanisms in this. When integrated technology is breaking down, some mechanism is that among young employees that kind of problem or bugs within a system are attributed correctly to the system, whereas with older workers those bugs are attributed to their own mental deficiency. That makes some kind of stereotype mechanism that we have to look into. We have to take up those features and facts about attitudes to get older workers motivated for involving themselves to learn, so that they can see they are able to learn. That could be some conclusion of my argument.
Reference Thesis: included in Manning 2002a; paper: Lahn 2002; final project report: Tikkanen et al. 2001
Source Recording of the symposium
Descriptors D-CDO  D-LO  EP09        V21
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Editor: Sabine Manning  © WIFO