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“Too old to learn?”: Mixed messages about learning and training in mid / later life

by on April 17, 2015

The Daily Mail here features an article about a new report, commissioned by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), which highlights the challenges faced by some older workers in a changing economy where there are no ‘jobs for life’. One of the reported findings is that they risk long-term unemployment because training is ‘heavily-geared’ towards young people. One of the main reasons cited by the over 55s cohort for not undertaking a qualification is a perception that they are too old to learn new skills (15%).

A copy of the report which was produced by Cebr, an independent economics and business research consultancy, can be downloaded via this link. In terms of methodology, Cebr look to have analysed existing datasets from e.g. ONS and Eurostat as well as survey results from some YouGov polls but I couldn’t find any further details so the usual methodological warning applies to the reported findings. We should point out that AAT is a provider of skills training and one of the conclusions of the report is that there needs to be more skills training – as well as featuring case studies of older workers who have successfully re-skilled via AAT training courses.

That aside, the report suggests particular combinations of age, gender and industry sector should be targeted for training on the grounds that they are highly vulnerable to job losses, specifically:

  • Older men in the mining & quarrying, manufacturing, and agriculture industries and parts of the craft and related trades (such as printing, wood working, metal workers) and plant and machine occupations
  • Older women in the public sector and clerical administrative occupations

Other recommendations are designed to promote lifelong learning:

  • Focus on how to change the ‘too old to learn’ mentality of the 55-64 year old age group and understanding of the contribution technological skills could make to their current job.
  • Provide training targeted at the 55-64 year old age group.
  • Offer more vocational training for the 55-64 age group.
  • Ensure that opportunities are available to fit in with full and part time work patterns.
  • Encourage employers to ensure that their older staff members participate in training and undertake career development activities.
But some recent developments are particularly unhelpful here. As we reported in this post before Easter, Government consultations on post-graduate loans proposed an age 30 cut-off. These kind of arbitrary age-based restrictions are one of the ways in which age norms about learning and training become reinforced (‘it’s for young people’). And, as commented on here in The Guardian, the Government has also announced 24% cuts to the adult education / lifelong learning budget in England for next year. According to that piece, the adult skills budget, which funds non-academic (university-based) education and training for those 19 or over, has been cut by a 40% since 2010.  All of which sends some very mixed messages about training and learning, not just for those in mid and later life, but across the adult lifespan.
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