Discovering new ways to empower older employees to find their groove and stay relevant in an ever-changing workplace.
Yet the real debate should not be whether society needs employees to stay in the workforce longer — there are real and broad benefits in that — but how we can give that older population the skills it needs to keep working.
The United Nations classifies a nation as ageing when 7 percent of its population is aged 65 years and above. In 2022, Malaysia’s rate jumped to 7.3 percent.
Despite the rumours, increasing the retirement age is not the ultimate solution to ensure the nation’s financial stability, especially with the changing landscape of work.
Keeping older workers employed longer requires thinking about the way they are trained. Online learning, or e-learning, can be a key part of that.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies scrambled to provide online training to their staff, including those less familiar with digital technology or “digital immigrants”: those born before the widespread adoption of computers and the internet who have had to adapt to digital technology later in life.
Many digital immigrants are older workers. As living costs rise and retirement savings dwindle, recruiters see more seniors trying to re-enter the workforce. For many older people, this isn’t just about financial necessity; it’s also about passion and a commitment to staying productive and engaged beyond their retirement age.
Retaining mature employees in the workforce does not affect job opportunities for younger generations, especially given a shift towards short-term project roles and advances in digital technology. It can even be complementary, especially given that mature employees can bring experience and often unique skill sets.
Companies might need to invest in staff retention.
For example, Singapore introduced a government training initiative for small and medium enterprises, providing up to 90 percent course fee funding. Organisations can leverage the National Silver Academy funding, subsidising 50 percent of training fees for individuals aged 50 and above and promoting lifelong learning.
As businesses evolve and require more qualified staff, mature employees who are upskilled, reskilled and retrained can stay relevant in the workforce.
Operating with a multigenerational workforce is easier for companies than dealing with shortages because of retirements and retraining existing employees are more cost-effective than hiring new ones. And, when a company invests in its employees, it signals value, fosters retention and helps attract talent.
Mature employees might be less enthusiastic about learning and development. Some cite age discrimination as a barrier. Even when given the chance, they might hesitate to participate in job-related courses.
Learning new technologies later in life can be like picking up a new language, engaging a different part of the brain. This might explain why older “digital immigrants” with lower levels of education might resist technology upgrades.
Adult learners prefer e-learning — a form of education that uses the internet, electronic media or digital technologies — but someolder learners face challenges engaging.
While a lot of adult education is underpinned by andragogy, a research-driven teaching concept designed to help adults learn in a way best suited to them, teaching the elderly might need something even more targeted — a geragogy.
Developing online courses designed for older learners might help them overcome the traditional issues of engaging with adult education. Geragogy guidelines for training senior learners have been developed to create inclusive learning experiences.
There are other ways to assist older e-learners. Providing technical support that boosts learner confidence helps — older people tend to prefer hotlines for one-on-one support — as would additional materials for newcomers and clear organisation and navigation guidelines. Simplifying course navigation with direct hyperlinks might also be helpful.
The fear of learning new things can be addressed once learners’ focus shifts from challenges to benefits. Mature workers should see lifelong learning as valuable for career survival as well as for a fulfilling retirement. Organisations can foster this mindset by promoting a culture of lifelong learning.
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As Malaysia’s retirement age undergoes review, businesses would be wise to consider what fosters an inclusive and supportive learning environment for older workers. Lifelong learning helps older adults stay active and satisfied and helps delay dependency.
As the population ages, lifelong learning also acts as a powerful tool to combat inequality and exclusion and supports intergenerational learning. That in turn builds greater resilience in communities.
Sharifah Rose Eeis doing her PhD in Digital Health Technology for Older Populations in Malaysia at the School of Arts & Social Sciences, Monash University Malaysia. Specialising in gerontology, she also conducts the Introduction to the Geragogy Guidelines workshops for Council for Third Age (C3A) Singapore.
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