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Let's Not Let Our Boomers Just Mark Time

Given the economic downturn, we can expect fewer baby boomers to retire. Short of winning in a Publishers Clearinghouse mailing, many of those employees whom you didn’t expect to be with you in the next year or two will still be with you.

Your plans likely will change, including the need to provide your older staff members with the skills they will need to handle near- and even long-term skill needs.

”Boomers who are unhappy at the prospect of not being able to retire as planned can become disengaged from the job,” warns Dr. Beverly Kaye, founder and CEO of Career Systems International, a worldwide leader in talent retention, engagement, and development.

“Once they lose their motivation, they begin, despite their strong work ethic, just marking time. The productivity and quality of their work suffers. A comprehensive training and career development program that offers them new learning opportunities and intellectual challenges can make all the difference. It can reignite their enthusiasm and get them reengaged. The results are measurable improvements in the productivity and quality of their work.”

What can a comprehensive training and development program entail?

In Working Longer: New Strategies for Managing, Training, and Retaining Older Employees, authors William J. Rothwell, Harvey Stems, Dane Spokus, and Joel Reaser, describe the elements unique to an effective training program for older workers. According to the four authors, successful older adult training and retraining requires consideration of seven areas: motivation, structure, familiarity, organization, time, active participation, and learning strategies.

Motivation. The desire to learn may be impeded by fear of failure or feelings of inadequacy as compared with younger workers. Trainers can help alleviate such feelings by providing continuous positive feedback and reminders of training goals. Trainers should also ensure managers and co-workers give support and encouragement.

Structure. The earlier job analysis should help to arrange the order of skill training. One area shouldn’t be pursued until an earlier one is mastered. The mastery also gives trainers opportunities to provide positive feedback.

Familiarity. If possible, trainers should build on the past knowledge and abilities of participants. This can increase participants’ attention and improve training effectiveness.

Organization. Research suggests that some older adults have difficulty organizing information effectively. Trainers can help by organizing the material into meaningful groupings. They can also teach older trainees ways to organize what they learn.

Time. Slower presentation of training material and provision for longer study and test periods can aid training comprehension for older workers. However, trainers should not just add more time—they should teach older adults more efficient use of time.

Active Participation. Actually, active participation is preferable to lecture or rote memorization with any group. In the case of older workers, their wealth of life and work experience also enhance group discussion and ultimate learning.

Learning Strategies. Training on the subject of learning strategies is a fairly new and rapidly developing area. The rationale behind learning strategies training is that we expect people to learn, but infrequently show them how to learn. Examples of learning strategies: rehearsals, memorization, and outlining job steps.

Providing well-thought-out training efforts for your older workers is well worth the effort.

For many companies, their boomer employees represent one of their most important human resources, says Kaye.

“These are usually the people with the greatest loyalty, strongest work ethic, and best institutional memory. The unexpected opportunity to keep them a little longer can turn out to be a blessing in disguise, for a company that is prepared to offer them the intellectual challenge and learning and development opportunities that will motivate and engage them. A strong, training and development program is the key to doing that. Then what could have been a problematic situation becomes a win-win.”