Amongst social learning, digital learning and gamification, the next era of learning and development will need to address a pressing (and arguably less glitzy) challenge for UK employers – the ageing population.
Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that for the first time ever there are more than 10 million people aged over 50 in employment. That means that over 50s now make up 31% of the entire UK workforce.
Many UK organisations will approach this problem reactively, when there is a pool of opportunity sitting right before them. So, what can learning and development do to manage the impacts of an ageing population?
1. Create a collaborative partnership between talent management and learning and development functions
One product of an ageing population has been the introduction of a new job title on the scene – the talent management team. The role of a Talent Management Director is to look at the current pool of people within an organisation and consider how to make the most of their ability and skill.
A good talent manager will be thinking about what the future talent pool looks like. They will be focussed on those employees who are primed and ready to take over key roles within the business in two, five and ten years’ time. In working closely with talent management teams, learning and development can assign the most effective learning programmes to meet the objectives of these employees and their organisation.
2. Retention through soft skills development
Strong soft skills are highly valuable in today’s working environment – because thanks to technology, the need for ‘hard skills’ is diminishing.
Employees need to deal with an increasing rate of change positively. This might seem easy, but it requires resilience, adaptability, positivity, collaboration and problem-solving skills. Let’s take the construction industry as an example.
Experienced construction workers may begin to have difficulty with the physical aspects of their job and historically, at the latter stages of a career an employee may wish to move to a role within the organisation which is less physically demanding. More often than not these employees are given the opportunity to move in to a site management role – allowing them to keep doing the job they know and love.
In the modern workforce however, Universities are increasingly offering site management as a degree, and so the construction industry has seen a significant rise in the number of site managers in their twenty’s entering the workforce, primed and prepped with these soft skills. The problem for the ageing workforce here is clear.
Providing soft skills training and application of these new skills for workers in the latter stages of their career will open up a myriad of opportunities to prolong their working life – where employers can undoubtedly benefit from their years of experience.
3. Retention through reasonable adjustments
At Vista we talk a lot about making reasonable adjustments for employees. There is a great opportunity for employers to expand their thinking here. Retention isn’t just about what training interventions organisations put in place, but about what else employers are doing to create a good working environment for all employees.
BMW are a great example of an organisation doing just that. In their report aptly named ‘How BMW are diffusing the demographic time bomb’, they have worked in partnership with their employees to change their working practices, environment and equipment to make life easier. Amongst the interventions are installing a sprung floor in place of a cement floor and introducing flexible workspaces that allow employees to sit or stand whilst at work.
Their approach provides the opportunity for their ageing workforce to continue within their roles and keep the depth of knowledge, skills and experience within the organisation.
4. Teaching new skills through blended learning
Blended learning offers a mixture of classroom and digital learning solutions to maximise the impact of training interventions and achieve positive behaviour changes. This approach allows managers to learn by themselves and test and practice this knowledge in a safe environment. It’s an effective way for employers to engage and upskill an increasingly multi-generational and diverse workforce.
We’re currently designing a blended learning programme for one of our clients. Designed as a practical and proactive approach to embedding new learnings and maximising impact, we’ve written the programme so that employees or managers start by working through our digital learning courses themselves. Halfway through this programme, they spend 2.5 hours in a classroom training session with a HR professional. Following this, they are able to go away and apply their learnings and put their new skills in to practice. At any time, their suite of digital learning videos is available to refresh their skills.
This ‘always on’ learning allows new knowledge to be continually reinforced and applied and is proven to be the most successful way of embedding new learning. The theory is explored by Benjamin Bloom in his Taxonomy.
5. Re-think Apprenticeships
The Apprenticeship Levy can be used for older employees, as well as younger. Providing apprenticeships at master’s degree level can enable organisations to fill middle/senior management skills gaps.
Although they may take a bigger slice of an organisations funding, the benefits arise from investing in people’s skills, not just ‘job skills’ – and as we said earlier, soft skills are highly valuable in the modern workplace during a period of rapid change. Here’s a helpful article on the topic.
The world of learning and development is innovative and fast moving, and we have no doubt that we’ll be discussing new ways of engaging the ageing population in ways that make good business sense in no time. For 2019 though, learning and development trends will be heavily driven by the available workforce. Teams will need to focus on young employees, older employees and everyone in-between in order to successfully prepare and retain a highly talented workforce.