Older workers’ training options ‘very, very thin’

CIPD acting chief economist tells peers older people are being trapped in dead-end jobs

Older workers looking to develop their skills and progress their career are being hindered by a shortage of learning opportunities, the CIPD’s acting chief economist warned yesterday.

Speaking with the House of Lords intergenerational fairness and provision committee, Ian Brinkley noted that, while the government had strived to enhance training for younger people, his assessment of the learning choices for older workers was that “there’s very, very little – there’s a very, very thin offering”. 

“You’re always going to have older people in the labour market who perhaps missed out on the university or the apprenticeship or whatever it happens to be,” he continued. “And they are now stuck in a job which doesn’t offer them very much prospect of progress or advancement and they can’t get out of it because there’s nothing there to help them do it.”

He added that, while all age groups had similar levels of job insecurity when comparing similar points of the economic cycle, “older workers are consistently over time...much more worried about losing their jobs and getting another one as good, and that’s probably because they’ve got more to lose”.

Brinkley also raised concerns that some older workers may be reluctant to ask for flexible working options, particularly shorter hours. “If you’re a lower skilled, manual or non-manual worker and you can be easily replaced, then you may indeed be worried that you are just ushering yourself to the door at a rather faster rate than might otherwise happen,” he said. 

Speaking to the committee on a later panel, Lina Bourdon, chair of the diversity policy unit at the Federation of Small Businesses, said better learning and development may stamp out age discrimination.

“If somebody is in a job, if they are older and they do not understand new technology, if training was available and businesses were encouraged to train their staff, then we probably will have less problems,” she said. 

Recent government research has shown employers’ training offerings remain lacklustre. The Employer Skills Survey 2017, published by the Department for Education in August, found only two-thirds (66 per cent) of UK employers trained staff last year.

Although the proportion of employers training staff remained consistent with 2015 and 2013 levels, the total number of training days had fallen. The average number of days training per trainee in 2017 decreased to 6.4 days in 2017, down from 6.8 days in 2015. Training expenditure also fell to £2,470 per person trained, down by 1 per cent on 2015. 

Separate research, released last month by online training company Staff Skills Training, found that 90 per cent of workers aged 55 or over agreed or strongly agreed there was a link between regular training and a content workforce, while 95 per cent believed L&D was critical for their career. 

Meanwhile, a report published by the House of Commons women and equalities committee in July warned that age discrimination was rife in the workplace, particularly when it came to recruitment. 

And a survey by Business In The Community and the Centre for Ageing Better UK, published last month, found one in seven (14 per cent) people over 50 believed they had been turned down for a job because of their age

The House of Lords intergenerational fairness and provision committee launched this May, with a remit to investigate four key areas where there was potentially unfairness between age groups – jobs and the workplace, housing, the role of communities, and taxation. In addition to its in-person evidence sessions, the group of peers ran a call for written evidence between July and September.