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How can we best engage older workers in reskilling efforts?

older person in the workplace global future council ageing reskilling upskilling
Engaging older workers is a win for all workers – here's how we can do it.
Image: Unsplash/Amy Hirschi

The landscape of our workforce is changing as we are living longer. Across the OECD, the ratio of older people aged 65 and over to people of working age (15-64) is projected to reach 2 in 5 by 2050, from 1 in 4 in 2018. As the world’s population is projected to reach 9.9 billion in 2050, about 21% (2.1 billion) will be over 60 years.

Percentage of population age 65 and over by country
The world is living longer.
Image: UN

The gift of longer life expectancy creates an opportunity for longer economic contribution and sustained economic growth – and older workers are crucial for the success of a multigenerational workforce.

However, to harness this new, longer workspan and support this transformation, we must create opportunities for age-friendly policies such as providing more flexible work options and retirement options, promoting lifelong learning, and creating age-friendly workplaces and overall better working conditions.

Investing in retraining, reskilling and upskilling improves employability of all workers throughout their lives. Access to these opportunities ensures full participation of all workers for a thriving economy and health of the population.

There are several misconceptions regarding the contributions and continued employment of older workers. Age is not the only factor influencing workforce participation; advances in technology and changing structures impacts all workers regardless of age.

“Acquiring new skills or sharing skills with others are enriching experiences. Yet, it seems that for older adults this is still more often a challenge than a springboard for a new career or a new role at the workplace. Employers and co-workers thereby lose out on an enormous asset that older workers can bring with their professional and life experience,” says Dubravka Šuica, Vice President for Democracy and Demography at the European Commission.

We need to move beyond these stereotypes and create inclusive policies and work environments that accommodate an extended workspan. Some countries are tackling this head on by raising the retirement age and in some cases abolishing the retirement age altogether for those who wish to continue working. Overall, as policies are developed, we must not forget that older workers are a very diverse group.

“While reskilling at any age is becoming a reality for many, the contribution that older workers can make in this effort is not yet sufficiently tapped: By mentoring and guiding younger colleagues, older workers can pass on their expertise and knowledge while transitioning into new roles themselves,” continues Šuica.

“Can you imagine a better win-win situation?”

How do we best engage older workers and realize this win-win situation? Ahead of the Jobs Reset Summit 2021, we asked members of the World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Healthy Ageing and Longevity to provide insight. Here’s what they said.

Image: International Labor Organization

‘Embrace the multigenerational workforce’

Alyaa Al Mulla, Director, National Program for Happiness & Wellbeing, Office of the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates

Governments and business must integrate a life-course approach in developing policies to improve employees’ wellbeing and happiness. This will humanize jobs and create more equitable economic participation. Embracing the multigenerational workforce is a recognition of contributions of all employers – older workers bringing their wisdom and life experiences, complementing the skills of younger workers who are often more tech savvy and hold newer education and skills. This multigenerational workforce provides opportunities for reskilling and empowering all workers to be productive at all life stages. The future of work will take a more inclusive approach to lifelong learning of its workforce and benefit from the increased longer life.

Image: OECD

Acknowledge that ‘age has nothing to do with learning’

Takanori Fujita, M.D. J.D., Project Lead for Healthcare Data Policy, World Economic Forum, C4IR Japan and Yasunori Suzue, Project Fellow, C4IR Japan

In Japan, the Labour Act supports older adults to work until age 70, urging employers to raise mandatory retirement age to 70 or in some cases abolish retirement all together. Masako Wakamiya, a Japanese woman, shows that age has nothing to do with learning. She bought her first computer at age 58 and invented Excel art, using Microsoft Excel as a design tool for clothes and round fans. At age 81, she developed a smartphone app called "hinadan", a game aimed at older people users, attracting attention as the world's oldest app developer. Now at age 86, She holds workshops to teach seniors how to use a smartphone. From the perspective of the digital divide that hinders inclusiveness, we should consider the improvement of literacy not only for workers but also for all members of society.

‘Redefine and expand roles’

Maliha Hashmi, Executive Director, Health & Wellbeing & Biotech, NEOM

Redefine and expand roles to accommodate the aging population. With a deficit of 400,000 doctors by 2030 spread over 32 OECD countries, population ageing and medical innovations cause demand for health services to soar. This same ageing population can support this demand through these very innovations. The challenges posed by the pandemic have increased the use of virtual care everywhere. We can balance the deficit of doctors and utilize the effectiveness digital health systems by redefining and expanding roles where the ageing population can serve on teams of life coaches, psychologists, nurses and nutritionists that become the first point of healthcare.

What better resource than to have technology connect the aging population to more opportunities to support in the healthcare journey virtually from any destination.

Percent of employed population over age 60
Percentage of employed population in the U.S. over age 60
Image: U.S. Census Bureau

‘Facilitate the re-entry of older adults into the marketplace’

Alexandre Kalache, President, International Longevity Centre, Brazil & Moriss Litvak, CEO, Maturi-Brazil and Board Member, ILC-Brazil

Workforce retraining initiatives must have a stronger focus on older generations. The world of work is a fast-changing landscape. More than ever, embedded lifelong learning, an entrepreneurial mindset and the skills and confidence to act unilaterally – even if working within a network – are essential components for sustained vocational relevance at all ages. The new demographic realities mean that it is vital for all businesses, CSOs and the public sector put more emphasis on developing innovative programmes that facilitate the re-entry of older adults into the marketplace. Maturi-Brazil raises awareness among businesses of the strategic and social benefits of an older workforce and prioritizes the training of 50+ workers for the new world of work.

Create ‘opportunities for older workers to strengthen adaptability and resilience’

Amal Abou Rafeh, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), United Nations

The growing complexity of the future of work demands a lifelong learning system that provides opportunities for older workers to strengthen their adaptability and resilience. Investments in reskilling and upskilling efforts should be adapted to older persons’ unique needs, motivations, preferences and diverse identities. In addition, investments should enhance older people’s ability to stay employed or move easily between the job market. Reskilling efforts also heighten one’s sense of self-worth, dignity and fulfillment. These efforts should not exclude older workers in the informal economy, those living in remote rural areas, members of ethnic minorities, refugees and migrants who often have poor access to training.

older man with an iphone
Image: Unsplash/Adam Niescioruk

Deploy new technologies to support older workers

Andrew Scott, Professor of Economics, London Business School

The coming years will see the intersection of new technologies and a growing proportion of older workers. The former can support the latter in three ways. Firstly, by providing new accessible and engaging ways to learn. Secondly, through using robots to make existing jobs physically easier to perform. Third, and most important, is for technology to augment rather than replace human skills in the workplace.

As machines become smarter at being machines, humans can focus on their human strengths. Research suggests older workers have a comparative advantage in many of these new technologies, which offer multiple ways to support an older workforce.

Ensure access to lifelong learning opportunities

Jean Setzfand, Senior Vice President, Programs and Debra Whitman, EVP and Chief Public Policy Officer, AARP

Workers of all ages want to develop and maintain skills that are relevant to the workplace. Given the constant changes in skills needed over time, it’s imperative that we all become lifelong learners. But training and skill development opportunities aren’t always equally offered to older workers.

Workers, companies, NGOs and policymakers should work together to ensure that reskilling and upskilling opportunities are offered and presented so that older workers can easily participate. While lack of time, financial resources and information asymmetries often prevent older workers from seeking training, strategies such as micro-credentialing and nonlinear educational paths, returnships, internships, apprenticeships and job sharing should be designed to meet the targeted needs of older workers.

older woman reading a book lifelong learning education skills
Image: Unsplash/zhang kaiyv

Provide ‘educational credits’

A. Vigneswari, Consultant, and Adrienne Mendenhall, Director, Business Development, ACCESS Health International

As markets strive towards an equitable global economy, national reskilling programs are preparing people of all ages to harness its opportunities. In Singapore, the Skillsfuture movement provides citizens with educational credits to be used on courses of their choice, regardless of their age or starting point. By anchoring funding with the person rather than the institution, this is transforming the way in which education and lifelong learning are funded and shifts the mindset from preparing for a job to developing one’s full potential. The benefits go beyond economic resilience, by challenging ageist myths and employment practices, to foster a productive intergenerational workforce.

older man in workplace skills
Image: Unsplash

Create workplaces ‘that enable integration of upskilled older workers’

David Alexander Walcott, Founder & Managing Partner, Novamed; World Economic Forum Young Global Leader

By creating workplace environments that enable integration of upskilled older workers, we keep older workers empowered and in conducive work environments. Stakeholders of professional development, such as the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, have been driving efforts to reskill older persons with success seen by several small companies. These gains should be complemented by efforts to create enabling workplace environments for older workers, including making workplaces physically safer, eliminating widespread workplace ageism and bolstering support for older job hunters.

These shifts will create a robust network of older persons who feel empowered in their contributions and are able to effectively harness the gift of longer lives.

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