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We hear this story all the time: Marianne can’t be promoted until David retires.
Marianne is a mid-career professional at a small accounting firm. She’s had her eye on a vice president position for the past few years, but until a senior employee leaves or retires, there are no available roles for her to advance into.
Likewise, David is about to turn sixty-seven and has been in his VP role for decades. He’s perfected his craft and can’t advance any further in the company. He’s feeling pressured to retire, even though he’d like to work for several more years (saving for retirement is no easy feat); but his responsibilities are slowly being taken away from him.
Neither Marianne nor David is at fault, but they are both getting the short end of the stick: no one is working to their full potential and their employer is failing them both.
More on the Forum Network: The crucial need to promote lifelong learning by Veronica Nilsson, General Secretary , Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC)
Lifelong learning is widely recognised yet research continues to show that too many workers don’t have access to upskilling and reskilling opportunities.
According to The Midcareer Opportunity report from the OECD/Generation, people are working and living longer than ever before. Improved life expectancies, decreased birth rates, and less-than-ideal retirement situations increase the likelihood that “more individuals will continue working past the traditional retirement age.”
This is a major disruption not only for the people working longer, but for the companies that employ them. For the first time in history, there are five generations present at the workplace, and each generation is in a different phase of their careers. With more than 20% of workers remaining in their roles well past retirement age, how can companies offer upward growth to those who are in the middle (or even at the beginning) of their careers while ensuring that older workers aren’t forced out of theirs?
The answer lies in strategies like reskilling, upskilling, reorganising, and mentoring.
Reskilling and Upskilling
Reskilling and upskilling are two ways that employees can apply lifelong learning to their careers to either craft their jobs into something slightly different or move into new roles entirely. According to a report from Bain & Company, older workers are particularly motivated to participate in ongoing training when it helps to accelerate their pursuit of interesting work. Unfortunately, this intrigue in learning to expand existing skillsets (upskilling) and learning entirely new skills (reskilling) is only addressed in about half of workplaces: 50% of employers offer on-the-job skills training for midcareer and older employees, according to the same OECD/Generation report.
Research shows that 61.5% of Millennials would think about resigning if they weren't promoted within two years in a job.
It’s imperative to offer all workers across every career stage the training and learning opportunities needed to expand their skillsets. This empowers employees to craft their roles as they (and their workplace environments) evolve. For example, a customer support specialist might reskill to take on customer retention responsibilities. Alternatively, someone who upskills could learn how to use a new software solution that offers novel capabilities to enhance their current role.
If early and mid-career professionals aren’t advancing in their respective workplaces, they are likely to seek out promotions with other companies. Research shows that 61.5% of Millennials would think about resigning if they weren't promoted within two years in a job. This means that there always needs to be upward-facing positions available for early and midcareer professionals to advance into.
Companies should be creating new positions (or expanding old ones) that allow younger and mid-career professionals to advance, even if this means reorganising the company. Expanding career capacity creates advancement opportunities without losing what’s already there. This also provides more opportunities for older workers to upskill or reskill their roles into entirely new (potentially more advanced) positions. Ultimately, it may prove less disruptive to create new positions than it would be to rehire whenever an unsatisfied employee leaves their role to go elsewhere.
It’s never too late to learn something new to supplement a nearly perfected craft, and workers of different generations certainly have a lot to learn from each other. Older workers have decades of complex problem-solving skills under their belts and are in the unique position to provide guidance and support to the next generation of workers. This prepares early and midcareer professionals to move into advanced roles while offering seasoned employees the opportunity to foster new relationships and reskill or upskill into expanded roles.
Additionally, consider a cross-generational mentorship programme (or similar programme like a shadow board) where a younger and older worker team up to get to know one another and collaborate on projects. This informal arrangement provides opportunities for both parties to share their skills and knowledge in unique areas. No two people are alike: While a younger worker might have experience using the latest software, the older worker could have equally valuable interpersonal experience dealing with customers.
It’s challenging to create a fulfilling workplace for employees across each generation; every individual has unique motivators and long-term goals. But employee satisfaction and retention increase when workers have clear visions of what their professional futures will look like. Supporting employees across age and career phases is the best way to care for and retain an evolving workforce.
To learn more, read the OECD report: The Midcareer Opportunity
The world of work is getting older in advanced and an increasing number of emerging economies. Two powerful and persistent trends, longer lifespans and lower birth rates, all but guarantee that midcareer and older workers will make up an even larger portion of the future workforce, with profound implications for our economies, businesses and workers. Are societies adapting quickly enough to cope with ageing at an unprecedented scale?