UFHRD Conference – 7 June 2013

… and here we go on the final day of the UFHRD Conference on Friday 7 June. I’m only covering the opening keynote and then travelling home.

The keynote is by Stephen McNair  (Centre for Research in the Older Workforce) “Work and Learning in Later Life”.

Mostly talks to policy audiences which, compared to an academic audience, have a very different view on what is evidence. Will be discussing research in to the training of the older workforce including a study funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

What should we care about the older workforce? As we can see long-term rising lide expectancy that will continue – we have acquired 20 years additional lifespan over the last 100 years. Also fertility rates are low and so the population is ageing and so oler age support ratios are deteriorating. The UK fertility rates are not as poor as in eg, Finland and Japan due to migration into UK.

Also the issue fo the loss of talent and experience is a critical weakness for business and so need to retain the more experienced workers. This is a serious problem in the engineering sector, especially nuclear engineering, sector.

Legal changes have abolish age discrimination including mandatory retirement.  But also the rise and harmonisation in the state pension age. More older people are working which is a striking change in the last 15 years. Many older people have a choice of whether to work or not and how they work shifting the balance of power in the employment relationship.

The older workforce in the UK: the labour market freezes at 50 in terms of career progression/ promotion etc. and if you’re unemployed at that age you are very likely to remain unemployment – as an unconscious discrimination process. But it is easier to stay in a job for longer indicating the strength of being *in* the labour market. Many organisations have no older workers – a third of firms have never employed someone over 50. After 50, the workforce is increasingly female, in larger organisation and in the public sector and the implications of this in the financial constraints is unknown. At 60 the older labour force splits according to gender and qualifications and work is increasingly part-time and self-employed.

most older people like work and want to stay in work especially if they could work more flexibly including phased retirement. Some want progression and new challenges. Older people are motivated by: interest in the job; status and respect; social engagement; finance and a sense of purpose and structure in life. Finance is almost never in the top three in surveys but may be a British reticence in discussing money (compared to surveys in USA).

Returning to work is harder for older workers with lower qualifications, with partner not in work and work experience in a declining industry.

Higher qualifications increase employability where gained early in a career and it is not clear that qualifications in later life have a positive impact on careers and employment.

So there are two models of older workers: a dynamic force contributing to innovation and growth vs a marginal group used to fill short-term gaps in the labour supply. Older people are not recruited unless the employer is “desperate” despite the benefits of employing older workers.

“The learning and work in later life” study looking at training and work in later life to inform public policy- see here. Included primary and secondary analysis of workers, policy=makers and employers. Most employers did not report a skills problem with older workers and most older workers felt their skills matched the jobs or that they were over qualified indicating an issue in underemployment. The self-employed especially reported being very over qualified as did older, older workers.

Training participation concentrated in the 25 – 55 age range and then falls. Training is more common  for women and in well-qualified, high status occupations, higher social class and those in full-time employment. There is less training of older people in the private sector. There is no evidence of older workers refusing training. Also experience of training is positive. But training tends to be for shorter duration but this is a preference of older workers.

Reasons for not training: perception that the return is low and so is not a valued investment (especially by line managers); poor management and a ‘conspiracy to under-perform’ between the workers and line managers as older workers training needs may be complicated to negotiated; qualifications tend to be over valued over experience.

Training tends to be provided by employers to rectify performance and for promotion (so favour younger workers); employers are more likely to support older rather than younger workers; reporting that employers support training of older workers but also report employers favour training younger workers; ICT has changed attitudes to training and learning; few employers and employees think training helps older people re-enter the labour market (although some employers think qualifications will help).

Fit between motivation and training – training and interesting work self-reinforcing; social benefits and sense of control over life and bridging world of work in to retirement all suggest importance of training. But where training is being imposed by employer or some external body; if seen as a criticism of an individual’s competence for longer-serving employees and where perceived to lead to loss of status, isolation etc.. training is not beneficial.

Influences on training: workplace learning culture; perceived career stage; job mobility; evident need; cost effectiveness and full-time status all support training take-up.

The older workforce is distinct but diverse. Older workers think their skills are adequate or they are over qualified. But the decline in learning is real

Need for positive role models and challenge stereotypes and promote importance of training to reduce career risk. Need joined up policy form govt (between Dept Business, Innovation & Skills and DWP), tailoring training and understanding what works in training including segmenting the older workforce and work-life balance issues are important.

If you’re fifty, what are you going to do over the next 20 years? England does have a national careers service (but at same time as it stopped advertising government services). Mid career review (at 50 years)  project to be piloted by NIACE through the national careers service: is there demand; what are the issues and what are the best models for delivery?


Is there evidence on the stereotype of older workers finding it difficult to learn (not just training)?

Evidence on older peoples’ learning processes is very limited and tend to be focused on particular older people rather than for older people as a general population. But inked to a change in understanding of what is meant by learning and expanded to a wider range of activities.

There is evidence of legislation having a positive impact. For example, the right of appeal on retirement decisions has lead to employers and employees having conversations and arriving at mutually beneficial solutions.


So that’s it – we’re just hearing about the next conference in Edinburgh 2014 hosted by Edinburgh Napier University.

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