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Helping older employees gain the skills they need to work in fulfilling jobs for longer

Society is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of giving older people the opportunity to stay in their jobs for longer. But how can they be encouraged to do so? The LEEP project may have some answers.

Society

The benefits to the individual, and society as a whole, of people staying in work for longer has been highlighted over recent years. But there is a central dichotomy: data show participation in education drops sharply as people age, from 18 % for the group aged 25 to 34 to 6 % for 55 to 64 year-olds, while jobs frequently require people to update skills. “To be able to fulfil their potential and use their experience, workers should be given an opportunity to keep developing in the later stages of their careers. This is mainly done by training at work,” explains the lead researcher of the LEEP project, Konrad Turek, based at the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute, affiliated to the University of Groningen. He believes they know why most policies aimed at getting older workers into training have failed: they have not taken the attitude of employers into consideration. “We must remember that employers are the ones who decide on recruitment, investment, HR policies and other aspects which are necessary to stay in work for longer,” says Turek. “It is important to provide older workers with a supportive age-inclusive climate and opportunities to engage in new activities and develop further,” he adds.

Breaking down the barriers

The LEEP project looked into how time and money can be best invested in training and how to boost the uptake of new skills for older workers. Previous studies show that older workers are more frequently offered early retirement than meaningful training. But demographics present employers with an inescapable reality: the retention and development of workers is crucial to avoid staff shortages and improve a firm’s competitiveness. Turek found that organisational climates which support the development and equal treatment of older workers, stimulate their participation in training. There is a direct correlation between their involvement in training opportunities and a preference for later retirement.

‘Listening’ to the data

The project examined European countries with a special focus on the Netherlands and Poland. In the former, researchers combined information on employees with their companies to investigate how retirement decisions result from a combination of individual attitudes and company policies. They also compared firms from 2009 and 2017. “We were the first to show how dramatically companies have changed their approach to older workers in the last decade,” says Turek. In Poland, the team used data from the largest survey of Polish employers (which questioned 80 017 employers between 2010 and 2015) to analyse the role of age stereotypes in discrimination. LEEP also drew on data sources such as the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), to trace individuals in 12 European countries between 2010 and 2015 which involved 27 370 respondents. Turek explains: “We show that access to training is greater in countries with stronger knowledge economies, stronger emphasis on education, and a proactive ageing climate.”

Generating discussion, making recommendations

LEEP’s results have been published in several scientific articles such as that published in Work, Employment and Society and discussed during 14 presentations at international scientific conferences. These include the key sociological, gerontological and demographic conferences organised by the International Sociological Association, International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics and European Association for Population Studies. Results were also disseminated to the general public through several accessible online publications, including the European Commission’s Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe (EPALE) and magazine articles on ageing in a changing society. Turek finds the question of how the world of work will be changing in the next decades, fascinating. “Undoubtedly, we will work longer, our careers will be less predictable and less standardised. The way we think about old age will change as there will be fewer limitations and more opportunities. Based on results of this project, I’ll continue to investigate how we redefine our approach to careers, and how our individual potential can be stimulated by appropriate policies.”

Keywords

LEEP, demographics, older workers, society, retirement, training, jobs

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