Older Employees’ Participation in Lifelong Learning from Individual and Corporate Perspective
Background: Demographic change in European societies has increased the proportion of older employees (e. g. Armstrong-Stassen/Templer 2005). Despite an overall heterogeneous picture, in general this age group is considered to be more effected by age-specific dequalification problems, motivational risks, health problems and early job retirements. Constant involvement in learning activities is seen as a key to tackle these problems. Yet, participation rates in lifelong learning at this age group remains relatively low (cf. Maurer et al. 2003).
Theoretical discussion: Even though there is no overall and generally accepted age classification for ‘older employees’, we consider 50+ year-olds as the ageing group. Since corporate HRM usually still focuses on training the younger generation, this group benefits less from training schemes and many are laid off before the legal age of retirement (Lunau 2013). Stereotypes of older employees as less adaptable, lacking willingness and limited capability to learn are still common in many places. Studies even show that formal training of older employees may be less effective compared to that of younger ones (Zwick 2011), but not for the reason of lower learning potential, but rather for a misfit of training content and forms with the demands of older employees. Therefore we see a need to develop more age-sensitive training measures. Such measures would need to consider the special conditions of this age group, especially since barriers to a higher participation in learning activities not only exist on employer’s side, but also on the side of the employees themselves. Studies revealed that with increasing age the motivation for developmental activities decreases, but the intention to learn can be enhanced by a positive attitude of employees towards learning (Renkema et al. 2009). In the second half of their working life, employees become more likely to suffer from age-related health conditions, that can affect their ability to remain in the workforce (Heidkamp, Mabe & DeGraaf 2012). In an aging society, early job retirements become increasingly problematic, which is why the importance of a healthy work-life balance for the overall well-being of employees increases (Gropel/Kuhl 2009; Kyndt et al. 2009).
In an aging society the urgency to overcome barriers of higher participation in learning activities rises and indeed they can be overcome (e. g. Farr/Ringseis 2002). Studies already show, that employers, who are facing labour shortage are more likely to implement policies oriented to the needs of older employees (McNair/Flynn 2005) and corporations expecting growth were more likely to implement measures to prevent early exits of older employees (Eschtruth et al. 2007).
In our study, we explore this situation for two industries in Germany, where the need of qualified labour and the effect of demographic change is particularly visible: in nursing and engineering. Furthermore, these industries can be seen as largely complementary regarding gender aspects, level of labour regulation, type of business models and yet are, at least in particular regions, effected by a shortage of skilled labour.
Research focus: Since the participation of older employees in Continuing Vocational Education and Training (CVET) varies and relies on factors on both employee and employer side, our research aims at creating a better understanding of the needs of older employees in CVET from individual and corporate perspective.
Taking into account the particular conditions of older employees, we address intrinsic and extrinsic motivational aspects of working and learning, the increasing importance of health competence, the need to integrate professional development into the set of experiences, the employees already made earlier at their jobs, families, communities and other areas of life. This in particular calls to jointly consider the results of formal, non-formal and informal learning.
While there are indeed a number of studies on older employees in general (see above), there is very little known about learning and working conditions of older employees in specific industries and/or corporations. Especially a holistic view of the employer and employees perspectives on learning and extended employability is missing. With our field study we aim at addressing this research gap. We use an explorative interview study including 16 interviews with older employees, 8 interviews with corporate HR representatives and 8 interviews with stakeholders from professional organisations and regulating bodies. Interviewees are distributed equally among the nursing and engineering industry and are covering three particular regions in Germany. An in-depth analysis of the interview transcripts is used to reveal relevant factors of lifelong learning participation in a holistic view and to uncover the structural links of the issue in the field.
Early findings show an increased awareness for the learning needs of older employees on the employer side. However, HRM representatives are hesitant to develop new measures tailored to older employees due to a lack of knowledge on what actually works. On the employee side huge individual differences appear regarding motivation, level of self-competence (autonomy and responsibility), attitude, type of prior learning experiences and self-perception. We see this as a reason for a more individual CVET approach to older employees and a need to make the individual baseline more visible and a centre-piece of CEVET measures. Therefore we want to use these explorative findings to design and test competence assessment tools, which address the age- and industry-specific needs of older employees and can be used within the corporate context. This is to say that the expected outcome of our study will be used as a précised set of requirements for a design-based research study on competence assessment tools such as individualized competence reviews or competence balances.
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