Old Dogs and New Tricks

Old Dogs and New Tricks

For the first time in the history of workplace culture, we host 4 generations of workers – the Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y or the Millennials. Over 60% of today’s workforce consists of the youngest generation – Gen Y, and perhaps for this very reason, we tend to forget about the other 40% that consists of the older generations. While we focus our attention on training the younger lot – who we hope will carry our company forward, who is thinking about the older generations? Shouldn’t they be trained – or can they be trained? If they can be trained – would they need a different type of training than Gen Y employees? It is generally accepted that the older we get, the more difficult it is for us to learn and acquire new skills, but is this acceptance justified?

Here is an excerpt from a very good article by David Crawford of the John Hopkins School of Education:

“Using a longitudinal study over a period of several decades, Schaie (1994) noted that scores on primary mental abilities improved gradually until about age forty at which time the abilities tend to stabilize until approximately age sixty. The decreases are small until the mid seventies at which time scores are usually measurably lower than they were in the mid twenties. Therefore, when a composite measure of mental abilities is used, learning ability does not decrease until the sixth or even seventh decade for most individuals. The significance of this seminal study seems to be that noticeable overall mental decline in the primary abilities does not generally occur until later in life.”

So mental ability remains pretty constant during a person’s lifetime, but what other studies have shown is that the speed at which information can be absorbed does decline, and this decline can be directly linked to how much the brain is used – the maxim ‘use it or lose it’ especially applies here.

Evidence shows that older people can learn new things – it just takes them longer than younger people.

There are other factors at work too:

  • It may be a long time since school, and a person may have lost the learning habit
  • A fear of failure may inhibit the learning process, coupled with a fear of losing face in their peer group
  • Older people tend to rely on past experience, and when presented with new, contradictory information or concepts, find it hard to accept and learn

So in an industry setting, this tells us a couple of things:

  • Regular retraining and upskilling helps to keep long-term employees in the learning habit
  • Training for older people needs to be handled differently and at a different pace

Older employees have a lot of ‘life experience’, and also a lot of work experience. They have learned how to deal with people in the workplace, and they know a lot about the company – not just about the work they personally do.

Most often, older employees have been with a company for some time. They have been loyal and good workers (or they would not still be there). They deserve training that works for them specifically, otherwise they start to fall behind, lose productivity, lose out on promotions, become disillusioned and not perform.

In a lot of cases people like these leave and go somewhere else, while at the same time the company is bringing in new recruits with no proven track record, training them, only to find them leaving for greener pastures pretty soon.

Just because an employee has passed into the imaginary ‘older’ category does not mean their usefulness to a company declines. As well as having demonstrated loyalty, they also have more stable and realistic ambitions, and know their own abilities better than their younger counterparts. Wisdom only comes with age, and every company needs older heads that can balance up the impetuousness of youth.

Companies must:

  • Understand the hesitancies and fears that hinder an older employee’s learning
  • Provide employees with training that they can relate to
  • Help older employees with the use of technology before providing technology-enabled training
  • Conduct research on how successful training is and if changes need to be made
  • Not expect drastic results instantly

We boast of 4 generations of employees under one roof. Companies spend a lot of time and effort training new people and could reap more dividends concentrating on their existing personnel – especially the older ones. We know now that it’s not impossible to train our older employees – it’s just a matter of finding out what drives them to learn.

Reference:
http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/lifelonglearning/higher-education/implications/

Old Dogs and New Tricks

For the first time in the history of workplace culture, we host 4 generations of workers – the Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y or the Millennials. Over 60% of today’s workforce consists of the youngest generation – Gen Y, and perhaps for this very reason, we tend to forget about the other 40% that consists of the older generations. While we focus our attention on training the younger lot – who we hope will carry our company forward, who is thinking about the older generations? Shouldn’t they be trained – or can they be trained? If they can be trained – would they need a different type of training than Gen Y employees? It is generally accepted that the older we get, the more difficult it is for us to learn and acquire new skills, but is this acceptance justified?

Here is an excerpt from a very good article by David Crawford of the John Hopkins School of Education:

“Using a longitudinal study over a period of several decades, Schaie (1994) noted that scores on primary mental abilities improved gradually until about age forty at which time the abilities tend to stabilize until approximately age sixty. The decreases are small until the mid seventies at which time scores are usually measurably lower than they were in the mid twenties. Therefore, when a composite measure of mental abilities is used, learning ability does not decrease until the sixth or even seventh decade for most individuals. The significance of this seminal study seems to be that noticeable overall mental decline in the primary abilities does not generally occur until later in life.”

So mental ability remains pretty constant during a person’s lifetime, but what other studies have shown is that the speed at which information can be absorbed does decline, and this decline can be directly linked to how much the brain is used – the maxim ‘use it or lose it’ especially applies here.

Evidence shows that older people can learn new things – it just takes them longer than younger people.

There are other factors at work too:

  • It may be a long time since school, and a person may have lost the learning habit
  • A fear of failure may inhibit the learning process, coupled with a fear of losing face in their peer group
  • Older people tend to rely on past experience, and when presented with new, contradictory information or concepts, find it hard to accept and learn

So in an industry setting, this tells us a couple of things:

  • Regular retraining and upskilling helps to keep long-term employees in the learning habit
  • Training for older people needs to be handled differently and at a different pace

Older employees have a lot of ‘life experience’, and also a lot of work experience. They have learned how to deal with people in the workplace, and they know a lot about the company – not just about the work they personally do.

Most often, older employees have been with a company for some time. They have been loyal and good workers (or they would not still be there). They deserve training that works for them specifically, otherwise they start to fall behind, lose productivity, lose out on promotions, become disillusioned and not perform.

In a lot of cases people like these leave and go somewhere else, while at the same time the company is bringing in new recruits with no proven track record, training them, only to find them leaving for greener pastures pretty soon.

Just because an employee has passed into the imaginary ‘older’ category does not mean their usefulness to a company declines. As well as having demonstrated loyalty, they also have more stable and realistic ambitions, and know their own abilities better than their younger counterparts. Wisdom only comes with age, and every company needs older heads that can balance up the impetuousness of youth.

Companies must:

  • Understand the hesitancies and fears that hinder an older employee’s learning
  • Provide employees with training that they can relate to
  • Help older employees with the use of technology before providing technology-enabled training
  • Conduct research on how successful training is and if changes need to be made
  • Not expect drastic results instantly

We boast of 4 generations of employees under one roof. Companies spend a lot of time and effort training new people and could reap more dividends concentrating on their existing personnel – especially the older ones. We know now that it’s not impossible to train our older employees – it’s just a matter of finding out what drives them to learn.

Reference:
http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/lifelonglearning/higher-education/implications/

About the author

Heera Edwin

Heera Edwin is a writer and educator who is actively involved in the design and development of content, marketing strategies and communications at 24x7 Learning

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