Survey Project results related to HRD in Europe

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Changing working life and training of older workers
Concept Trends Findings Practice Challenge
Synopsis The analysis of the changing working life and training of older workers particularly related to SMEs led to the following results:

(1) Job competence of older workers was generally highly valued. Differences in it were addressed to individual characteristics but not to age. Systematic monitoring or documenting of competence did not exist, but that of experienced workers was acknowledged and utilised internally e.g. in mentoring. Competence was both individual and collective, and viewed to base more on work experience and personal characteristics than on formal training.

(2) Changes in working life and workplaces challenged the learning of older workers like their younger colleagues, but also reduced their opportunities for learning, due to workload and time pressures. In some cases the former chose a more adjusting than participating strategy amidst of the changes. Age was not related to how ‘invitational’ workplaces were experienced as learning environments, nor to the subjective assessments of learning attitudes, skills, or motivation, except to memory and speed of learning. Stronger variation was found between sectors and companies. New technology was the biggest learning challenge to all employees. No general rule applied, however: in some SMEs older workers managed well with new technology, as acknowledged by their younger colleagues, in some it was causing their exit. Learning was preferred as practice-based and it was highly social and collegially shared activity. 

(3) Older workers participated in informal and non-formal training like younger workers, but less in formal training and within industry. Learning culture was rather positive, somewhat less so among management, but with variation across sectors, least in those with low-skilled jobs. Employees were less satisfied with feedback systems and to encouragement from management. Competence development of younger workers was more visible and systematic (e.g. mentoring), older workers were more viewed as contributors and ‘teachers’ rather than as in need for learning and development (except in IT). HRD strategies and initiatives involving older workers seemed to function best when build and tailored to adjust to 'local' situation and circumstances in the company. More attention should be paid on practical training consequences to motivate experienced employees in SMEs to develop themselves further. 

(4) Responding to the new learning imperative in working life and utilising the diversity of the personnel challenges the competence of their management in a way, which is crucial to the development of SMEs towards learning organisations, especially in older occupations and companies. To meet this challenge, management in SMEs needs support to develop awareness of and practice in HRD-related issues. Diversity in competence is typically utilised collegially, also under inter-generational solidarity, contributing to continuity in workplaces to counterbalance the continuous changes. It should and could, however, be utilised more systematically in companies to improve workplaces as functional environments. Increased value of informal, experience-based knowledge seemed to give credit to the competence of older workers and balance the views relative to that of younger workers. 

(5) Successful work-based learning and training interventions involving older workers have potential for improving their motivation for learning, for strengthening their self-confidence and organisational commitment, and for improving the social climate in groups with mixed ages (Tikkanen et al. 2001, p.i). 

Reference Details of the findings based on the survey of SMEs and the case studies are set out in the final project report (Tikkanen et al. 2001, pp. 35-49, 50-98). 
See also project info on WORKTOW.
Descriptors D-CVT  D-LO  D-WBL  EP03  EP04  EP09  E13c
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Editor: Sabine Manning  © WIFO