• Simon Phillips

Teaching "old dogs" new tricks?


We all know the adage "You can't teach an old dog new tricks". When you stop to think about it, however, this is just plain silly. When it is applied to older people, and highly-experienced older workers in particular, however, it is just plain insulting.


It does, however, appear to feature in a leading school of thought, exemplified below in a quote from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. It suggests that older workers need to continuously update their knowledge and skills - the onus is on them.

"Demographic change as well as changes to the state pension age will increase labour supply. Individuals will compete on the basis of their skills, and older workers will need to continue learning and updating their skills. Employers will need to consider succession planning as people leave the labour force." The Labour Market Story: Skills for the Future, The UK Commission for Employment and Skills, 2014.

This assumes that employing organisations are ready, willing and able to invest in this "upskilling" of their older workers. Making those older workers more relevant to the changing workplace. Even using them as key agents of change. As you may have noticed, this is far from the norm. I have argued elsewhere, and continue to do so, that this is simply bad business logic. There is a growing wealth of academic research to support this view, and I will pull on that in later posts.

The other school of thought, which may not be as high profile but which has some big names behind it (the International Labour Organization, for instance), is that organisations, and even countries, should put steps in place to create:

"Skills development to ensure adequate skills at all levels ..." Green Jobs Progress Report, ILO, 2016.

This is where it gets really interesting. Note the title: "Green Jobs Progress Report". One of the most necessary areas of industrial growth is in sustainability and energy efficiency. This applies globally, as we all share the rapid decline in our world environment. The ILO has been looking at employment, and employability, to support sustainable environments and economies, through its Green Jobs programme. In the Progress Report for 2016, it sets out an agreed set of guidelines for nations, which underline the need for a move towards sustainable economies in a way which is just and fair for all.

This is really interesting, because older workers empowered to be genuine agents of change is a fascinating new sector. I am delighted to see the steps being put in place at the highest levels, to ensure sustainability is woven into the policy frameworks for nation states around the world. I am also delighted to see that it is acknowledged that this must benefit and involve everyone, and that people living in those nations should have the chance to take part in their national "greening". Not only is this a commendable commitment to sustainability in its “green” sense, but obviously in terms of business sustainability. Older workers, transferring their skills to drive successful change, are key agents in knowledge transfer and the maintenance of "corporate memory".

There are many skills which older workers can acquire ably and willingly to support the spread of occupation in the very broad church that is "sustainable industries". Most older workers have (whisper it low) actually been agents of change for decades. (I find myself wanting to ask narrow-horizoned recruiters, “Who do you think were the people inventing the things we now take for granted? They didn’t magically stay a keen 20-something …”).

The trick is to ensure that these skills are passed on and that older workers receive support to acquire the skills. A supportive learning environment will ensure that new skills are embedded, the investment in training secured, and the change delivered organically. It all depends on how serious the employer is about keeping skills in their workplace and keeping hold of their investment in their people. If you don't train and coach people, you won't keep them and a competitor will snap them up because they are experienced, skilled and keen to learn – and share that learning.

Any organisation seeking to "green" their workplace will face several challenges, but change, and specifically bringing their workforce with them on that change journey, shouldn't feel one of them. Coaching workers to share ideas, expertise and values will result in a happier workforce, and a more productive workplace. That has to be good for the bottom line. So if you want to discuss how to help your workforce get behind workplace change in a way which includes team members identified by their skillset and mindset, not their birth date, contact me and see how we can help.


Contact Astrid Davies at astrid@thechangemakergroup.com

#careerdevelopment #joywork #leadership #change

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