The official blog of Abacus Group — a place to share our knowledge and thoughts on trends in recruiting

November 03, 2017

Old Dogs and New Tricks: Why Constant Training is Key


It’s a sad reality that companies offering training to their mature-aged workers are seen as being progressive. The best thing for business is to have constant training across the board without ignoring older employees. If this was rolled out across industries, the implications for the U.S. economy and indeed mature-aged workers could not be ignored and would only stand to prove that it should have been put into practice much earlier. Older workers are less likely to be unemployed however are also less likely to receive the necessary training to improve upon their skills, making finding employment beyond their current situation more difficult atop the issue of their age.

The 2008 report issued by the U.S. Department of Labor Task Force on the Aging of the American Workforce claimed that workers between the ages of 25 and 34 received an average of 37 hours of training per annum in comparison to the nine hours received by employees over 55. Despite the dated nature of the nine-year-old report, the Age Discrimination Act (ADEA) of 1975 against which we measure standards of care and treatment of mature workers, has not been reformed in its 42-year tenure. This is proof that little has changed in our handling of an aging workforce.

The reasoning behind this thinking is not malicious but rather fairly justified. It is believed there is more merit in investing in future generations over the training of older workers who are closer to retirement. Furthermore, it feeds into the notion that older employees are not interested in training or would not be receptive of change. However, this statement contradicts statistics that more than 8 in 10 workers aged 45 to 64 believe the opportunity to learn something new is critical to their view of an ideal job. Over 7 in 10 say that job training is an essential part of that ideal employment, according to an AARP Work and Career Study survey. Proving that old dogs want to learn new tricks.

However antiquated the methodology of exclusively training young and new workers, it is also a very short-term solution to cost cutting. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the labor force growth rate of 65 to 74-year-olds will be about 55% over the decade ending in 2024. However, predictions of growth for the labor force overall is only expected to be 5%. Therefore spending the money now to train these workers will save not only money in the future but also the headache of reactive measures once the realization is made that we are facing an aging workforce.

Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the Wharton School and member of the National Security Agency’s Equality Task Force answered the question of how to better engage mature workers, for Harvard Business Review. “Start by acknowledging and using their experience. Certainly this is true for any age group: everyone wants their expertise to be recognized, especially by the boss. But with older workers, it’s even more important, because they typically have a lot of experience – so ignoring it is especially irritating. And older workers themselves can be prickly about being managed by someone who knows less than they do.”

AT&T, for the first time ever, made 2017’s Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For. Arguably their initiative of retraining staff added to the success of the company and therefore Fortune’s recognition of it. The tech giant invested in upgrading their infrastructure for the digital age. In doing so, realized the importance of retraining their 280,000 employees rather than relying solely on hiring new talent. The company, whose cohort has an average tenure of 12 years, is truly a pacesetter for the U.S. in the way of mature employee engagement.

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