Meeting Learning Needs For Boomers And Seniors

As more and more Baby Boomers stave off retirement, do their learning needs change as they remain on their jobs into their 70s and even 80s? Does the training of these employees need to be tweaked as they get older?

As people continue to work in some capacity well past the traditional age of retirement—into their 70s and even 80s—employers will have to develop strategies to meet the training needs of senior workers in for the long haul.

A training program’s return on investment typically is achieved after workers have been on the job for a good amount of time, so historically, employers did not want to waste money training workers who soon would retire, says Lee Branstetter, director of the Center for the Future of Work at Carnegie Mellon University.

But today, it’s increasingly becoming a different story. “Many people are living longer, and retirement at 65 is making less and less sense, as many people simply can’t accumulate enough wealth in a 30-year career to tide them over 40 or 50 years afterward,” he says. “Also, many people want to continue working for the human interaction. While they may not want to work as many hours or in the same job as they did before they were 65, they still want to work. Age 65 may be less and less a pivot point into full retirement, but, instead, increasingly a time at which people dial down the degree of work in some fashion.”

Complementing the increased interest on the part of older workers in continuing to work is a growing shortage of younger workers in some parts of the country, Branstetter says. As a consequence, companies are welcoming older workers.

“All of this means that the ROI of training older workers is changing in complicated ways,” he says. “For at least some older workers, this ROI is probably going up in ways policymakers and business managers need to think more seriously about.”

New versus Continuing Career Path

In general, the learning needs of Baby Boomers and seniors will be based on their previous career experiences and whether they are continuing to work in familiar career areas or if they are making career changes, says Claire A. Simmers, professor emeritus in the Erivan K. Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA.

Employees entering the workforce anew or changing careers may need preliminary work to determine their learning styles and learning needs in the new career paths, Simmers says.

Some research indicates that learning may take longer as part of natural aging in healthy adults. “As such, training should focus on reducing uncertainties and drawing relationships to current knowledge and experiences where possible,” Simmers says.

If entry into part-time work is to reduce boredom, then older workers likely will be more willing to learn as the choice to work was freely made, Simmers says. However, if they are working to make ends meet, there may be a reluctance and lack of enthusiasm on the job. “If a senior person is working due to financial reasons, there might be a need for self-assessment and coping techniques offered by Learning and Development (L&D) professionals to increase awareness of psychological and physical changes that occur naturally in aging,” she says.

Simmers disputes the common notion that older workers automatically will have more difficultly adapting to new technologies. Seniors most often have experienced the ongoing transitions of technology changes throughout the last 30 years, adapting as each wave of technology was introduced into the workplace. “Younger workers often only know workplaces with the Internet and mobile devices, while senior workers have dealt with a progression of technology, from typewriters to dummy terminals to mobile devices,” she says. “Senior workers, thus, may be less stressed than Millennials about changes since change has been the norm throughout their working careers.”

More Personalized Learning

Stephanie Neal, a research consultant in DDI’s Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research in Pittsburgh, says that according to a recent study DDI conducted with The Conference Board and EY, there is strong evidence that older and retiring Baby Boomers are seeking “valuable opportunities to learn and continue their growth even as many near retirement—just like everyone else in the workforce.

“Also, just like their Millennial and Gen X counterparts, we found Baby Boomers want more personalized learning experiences, as well as more formal training and on-demand learning,” Neal says. “Baby Boomer learning preferences were stable across leaders from this generation, so even those who are closer to retirement indicated a healthy need for more of these experiences.”

Their technology preferences were also similar, except that fewer Baby Boomers indicated wanting more mobile device-based learning—though other generations didn’t overwhelmingly want that delivery method either, Neal says. A third (37 percent) of Boomers want it versus 42 percent of Gen Xers and 47 percent of Millennials.

“If it is a company’s strategy to attract and retain older workers, then it should invest in and encourage development just like it would any other population,” Neal says. “In any learning environment, coaches and trainers should be sensitive to the needs of their learners, and always use good interpersonal skills and demonstrate respect for everyone in their learning path.”

Donna Satterthwaite, director of Workforce Development at Senior Service America Inc. (SSAI) in Silver Spring, MD, says the level of expertise gained over a longer life period of working might result in limited training being needed—which could result in a Boomer hire becoming a contributing employee faster than another new hire. The nonprofit, operating under a Labor Department grant, administers on-the-job skills training to eligible individuals 55 or older delivered by 65 local partners in 13 states, as part of the federal Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), Satterthwaite says. Every SCSEP participant must have an individual employment plan, reviewed and updated at least twice a year, that establishes actionable goals that could lead to gainful employment.

All participants “learn by doing” by being assigned work at local nonprofits or local governmental offices that contributes to achieving their goals, she says. This work experience may be supplemented with additional training as needed, such as computer skills, customer service skills, financial literacy, or specialized skills required by a job. SSAI also helps local programs by providing strategies on job searching, resume writing, and interviewing geared toward older adults.

Don’t Make Assumptions

As employers make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, they also should make accommodations for older people who are sight or hearing impaired, or have other physical limitations, Satterthwaite says. “One thing I’ve noticed from trainers is the tendency to speak fast, but this impacts almost every trainee’s ability to listen and comprehend,” she says. “So if L&D professionals can do one thing, please slow down the pace and speak distinctly. That will help all!”

To minimize claims of ageism, employers should consult with law practices with expertise in this area to help craft policies, procedures, and training and to have periodic legal reviews, Simmers says. Employers also can hire L&D professionals who have experience working with multiple generations.

“A third suggestion is to build a culture of inclusivity that values each employee for his or her contributions and performance, irrespective of any differences,” she says.

And employers should ask about training accommodations of all trainees before a training occurs, Satterthwaite recommends.

Above all, employers should not make assumptions about what people can and cannot do, she says. “Regardless of age, people learn at different speeds, and adjust to new technologies or environments differently, Satterthwaite notes. “There are more commonalities between trainees of varied ages than there are differences. Be ‘customer centric’ to learn what may be needed to ensure a full training experience.”

How Learning Needs Are Changing With an Aging Population

By Tanya Chopp, Content Marketing Manager,

The influence of the senior demographic over all facets of the economy is expanding rapidly with no sign of stopping soon. Current estimates show that by 2060, 1 in every 4 Americans will be over 65 years old. Industries across the board will feel the effect of an aging population as businesses move to accommodate an economy rich with opportunity to help provide seniors, their loved ones, and caregivers with what they both need and want.

But in comparison to other industries, which may feel the effect as a ripple, the impact on the learning economy will be direct. The emerging seniors market, one of the most lucrative and fastest growing markets in North America, has expressed interest in working longer, reinventing themselves, chasing corporate training, and taking post-secondary courses on interesting subjects for pure enjoyment. The face of the average learner is becoming more mature, experienced, and comfortable with the idea of reinvention than any other generation. Seniors are simply not ready to stop learning.

All over the U.S., colleges and universities are partaking in a movement called “Plus 50” to actively recruit older students seeking opportunities to further their education.

However, the training and education they’ll receive is far from “traditional.”

Today’s older generations are more comfortable with technology. According to Pew Research, in 2017, almost 4 in 10 seniors had a smartphone (practically double the number who did in 2013), and 82 percent of 65- to 69-year-olds are Internet users.

With this trend progressing, it should come as no surprise that by 2030, newly minted seniors will be part of a population that’s familiar with the education industry’s many consumption avenues, including self-led e-learning courses, instructor-led online courses, in-class courses, etc., all of which incorporate components of voice-over. In fact, over the last three years,—a marketplace for voice-over actors—has seen an 88 percent increase in demand for senior voices for educational projects such as e-learning modules, educational games, audiobooks, and other media.

Research also shows that when it comes to appealing to a senior audience, the sound of the voice of authority (for instance, for narrators of e-learning material) is more likely to resonate if the producer chooses a voice that sounds like a peer.

It’s high time that training solutions reflect the massive change in demographics that is taking place. Appealing to the senior audience is becoming a prudent step in building an effective training program for decades to come.