As the country's workforce ages, employers and employees must dispense with the notion that some members of staff are too old for training and development

Trainers are increasingly looking at how they can better engage with older workers and encourage an appetite for learning at a life stage when some people might have expected to be planning their retirement.

This is an issue that no employer can afford to ignore. Research by City and Guilds found that by 2010 the number of young people reaching working age will begin to fall by 60,000 every year, fundamentally changing the shape of the UK workforce.

To meet the shortfall in new workers, estimated at 2.1 million between 2010 and 2020, there will be an increasing need for people to work for longer or to re-enter the labour market.

Whereas vocational training has traditionally focused on school leavers, new entrants to a profession or workers at key stages in their personal development, the emphasis will need to switch to ensuring our older workforce are properly trained and supported.

While there is a powerful business case for this change in approach, providing older workers with the motivation to train requires a better focus on their needs. Put simply, employers need to show them what is in it for them.

Case study

This was the concern of 61-year-old care worker Gillian Landsell, who could not see the point of starting a national vocational qualification when most of her contemporaries were retiring. Gillian was offered the chance to take part in the NVQ Stars programme by her employers BUPA Care Services as part of a programme implemented by NVQUK.

"It felt strange to be thinking about making a commitment to training at my time of life," admits Gillian. "What finally convinced me was that the course was specifically designed to my job as activities co-ordinator and I felt my time wouldn't be wasted learning skills that would never be needed.

"Also the NVQ was structured so that I could complete it in a few months, meaning whatever knowledge I gained could be applied straight away."

Gillian successfully completed an NVQ in social care within three months and immediately began to see the benefits.

"What started to change my attitude to the course was the work we did on equality and diversity," says Gillian. "It made me realise there were different ways in which I could develop the services I was offering to residents and to ensure everyone was being treated as an individual rather than simply looking at the group's overall needs.

"It made me question what I'd done before and I'm very proud of the changes I instigated as a result. The whole experience was very satisfying and having a new challenge really got my brain cells working."

Finding motivation

Sharon White, managing director at NVQUK reveals that Gillian's attitude and experience is typical of workers at her stage of life.

"Motivation is a major factor when tailoring training programmes for older workers," explains Sharon. "It's vital that workers see the value in training and recognise that it has some relevance for them. The best way to achieve this is to tailor bespoke courses that focus on an individual's day-to-day role. Older workers often say that they want to see an immediate benefit rather than feel they are training for a future career.

"Similarly, more condensed training courses are often preferred, especially those that can be conducted on-site. Again this provides the immediacy that the workers of this age group demand."

The experience of the NVQ Stars programme shows that the appeal of this approach is not limited to older workers.

"The challenges presented by an ageing workforce are prompting trainers to really focus on the need for better motivation, which is helping to increase the overall effectiveness of personal development programmes," explains Sharon. "NVQ Stars has been successfully trialled with BUPA with workers of all age groups. The approach of offering more targeted and flexible training has helped an impressive 90 per cent of learners achieve their NVQ.

"The programme is now being extended and rolled out to all areas of the health sector covering a broad range of medical subjects and, as a result of a partnership with Protocol Skills, also providing courses for non-medical workers within the health sector."

Despite the success of programmes such as NVQ Stars, employers seem slow to react to the issue of our ageing workforce and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development recently concluded that more needed to be done to recruit, retain and engage these "third agers".

By 2011, the Office of National Statistics tells us that the mean age of the UK population will exceed 40 for the first time, with men working to 64 spending almost a third of their life (31 per cent) in retirement.

Older workers are becoming a precious resource and organisations that succeed in engaging with them will find new meaning to the phrase "golden years".

For more information about Protocol Skills, visit www.protocol-skills.co.uk or call 0845 071 9011. For more information about NVQUK, visit www.nvquk.com or email healthserviceinfo@nvquk.com, call 01344 887676.