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28/07/2016

Lifelong learning for all: facing the challenges of an ageing workforce

A key objective of the Healthy Workplaces for All Ages Campaign is to promote sustainable work and healthy ageing from the start of, and throughout, working life. Lifelong learning is a great way to help both workers and employers face the challenges of an ageing workforce by preventing the erosion of skills, promoting healthy work habits, and tailoring work to the needs of individuals.

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While longer, healthier lives is reason to celebrate, we must also remember that a decreasing birth rate means fewer young people entering the labour market. For employers this means a reduction in the potential pool of workers which could result in workforce and skill shortages. This in turn will impact productivity, competitiveness and the ability to provide essential services.

Retaining older, skilled and experienced workers is therefore becoming increasingly important, as migration may be insufficient to counterbalance the lack of young workers coming through. 

No one understands the importance of training better than Napo. Within the film "Napo in...back to a healthy future", in the scene ‘learning for all’ our healthy workplaces’ hero Napo illustrates the importance of ensuring training is available for all employees, regardless of age. The clip also highlights the problem of age discrimination, which is still prevalent in European society. According to the sixth European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) by Eurofound, workers over 50 report fewer opportunities for learning and less access to training. 

As data from the EWCS survey shows, only around 40 % of European workers report receiving training paid by an employer in the last 12 months (2015 data), with over 50’s receiving lower than the average in most countries. This shows that we still have work to do, to increase both the amount of training in general, and to ensure that older workers are not left behind.

Retaining older workers depends on many factors and varies from sector to sector. Where manual labour is concerned, the obvious changes to make are those that reduce heavy lifting work. But learning new skills is also an option.

Plenkers, a small roofing enterprise in Germany introduced measures to retain older workers through its ‘Off the Back’ project. This included basic office training – upskilling which allowed workers to transfer to lighter work when necessary. 

External factors are also changing the labour market. Globalisation, technological advances, and customer demand for increasingly diversified and individualised services means workers need to be more adaptable. This increased fluidity means the responsibility for the regular updating of skills and competencies is shared between employees, employers and public authorities.

In Belgium, the Service d’Aide aux Familles bruxelloises Asbl, a small non-profit organisation supporting families during illness, disability or social distress introduced the ‘Life Coach’ project. Care work is stressful, requires significant technical skills and there is a high rate of sickness absence. The project provided training to its care workers (45 % of whom are over 45 years of age) to enhance their skills and promote career progression. Care workers were given training in communication, conflict and change management. 

For more case studies, good practice examples and practical tools and guidance on issues associated with an ageing workforce take a look at the campaign website. And you can also follow the campaign on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, using the hashtag #EUhealthyworkplaces to keep up to date with the latest news and events. You can subscribe to our newsletter via the campaign website www.healthy-workplaces.eu