The Need for Age-Neutral Training in the ‘Silver Society’

2. The Need for Continuous Vocational Training

2.1 Adapting Education and Training for the Knowledge Society

Direct worldwide competition implies that a country’s competitiveness largely depends on the quality of its supply activities. The globalisation process and the intensification of direct competition have had a large impact on work organisation. Vocational training practices and policies have to be embedded in a world of fast changing working conditions. Main developments in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have been characterised by the term ‘Knowledge Society’. In the literature to date, there appears to be no clear definition of what the knowledge society might be.11 Large parts of academia however aggress that the term knowledge society involves a number of significant trends which have been summarised by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions:12 the development of the information society and of information technologies, the increased importance of knowledge management and innovation, the increase of service economies and the need for lifelong education and training empowering people to become adaptable and to acquire new skills and knowledge.
Wim Kok’s High Level Group set up by the European Commission recommended in its mid-term review “Facing the challenge: The Lisbon strategy for growth and employment” to foster lifelong learning for all and to adapt education and training systems to the knowledge society, since investment in human capital becomes thus conditione a sine qua non for future competitiveness. By extending training opportunities and making employees more employable, the stage can be set for more flexible and hence more productive employment systems. However, it appears crucial that (re)training opportunities be extended until the end of people’s careers and that they are not reduced them from the age of 50 onwards.

2.2 The Horizontal Distribution of Activities During the Course of Life

Most industrial societies have been experiencing a trend towards diversification and individualisation of leisure time activities and training patterns. Traditionally, citizens’ life-cycles have been vertically divided into periods education, work and retirement. This perspective no longer corresponds to the course of life of today’s workers. The transitions between the various stages of life have become more complex. Entering into the labour market and pursuing a career is often interrupted by periods of vocational training or maternity/paternity leave. Likewise, discontinuity through new employment arrangements such as short-term project contracts or unemployment plays an increasing role in work biographies.13 The demarcation line between working as an employed wage earner and being self-employed has become difficult to draw in many countries. In addition, continuous vocational training has gradually become a common feature of modern working life.
A new perception of the course of work/life is needed. In its Green Paper on Demographic Change, the European Commission concludes that one of the key priorities for the return to demographic growth is to find “new bridges between the stages of life” and to alter “the frontiers (…) between activity and inactivity”.14 For more than 16 years, Geneviève Reday-Mulvey from the International Association for the Study of Insurance Economics (Geneva Association) argued for promoting a horizontal life cycle approach (see Figure below).

Figure 1: Activities over Life Cycles


Source: Geneviève Reday-Mulvay, International Association for the Study of Insurance Economics; further developed by the author

To transform the horizontal life cycle approach into concrete, consistent practice, large advances must however be made to implement and co-ordinate employment, family, social and financial policies. Serious knowledge gaps still persist in regard of new work biographies in a comparative perspective. Each generation ages differently. According to the ‘cohort factor’ each generation is affected by its own history. It is therefore very unlikely that today’s children will have the same sort of life cycle as today’s adults. Correspondingly, social expectations of workplace training are inappropriate and take time to change. Society is still geared to the ageing patterns of the previous generation. Every generation perceives itself as justifiably different from the preceding generation, but plans as if the succeeding generation will be the same as their generation.
According to Art. 137 para. 1 EC Treaty, the European Community shall support and complement the Member States’ activities with regard to working conditions. Research provided by the EU agencies in Bilbao (European Agency for Safety and Health at Work) and Dublin (European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions) indicate that older workers’ employability can be enhanced by improving the quality of workplaces.15 One of the findings demonstrated that older wage-earners in low-quality employment with limited training possibilities withdraw from the labour market before the statutory retirement age much more than workers who profit from extensive training programmes until the end of their career.

2.3    Less Vocational Training for Older Workers

In the OECD member states, on average 26% of employed persons participate in employer-sponsored continuous vocational training each year. Each participant receives on average about 68 hours of training per year (approx. nine working days). In all OECD countries, the incidence of training tends to decline with age. In particular, the average training participation rate of workers aged 56-65 is about three-quarters that of workers aged 36-45.16 However, the country with the highest continuous vocational training volume (CVT) and the highest participation rate is Denmark, where workers receive on average 36 hours of employer-sponsored CVT per year. This translates into about two working weeks per participant per year. In France, since 2004 all employees are on average entitled to 20 hours’ training per year by law.17 Legislation also obliges companies to earmark financial resources for training purposes: the equivalent of at least 1.6% of salary. In French companies, works councils have to be informed about the aim of the various training programmes.
In the Member States of the EU, only 10.8% of workers and non-active adults participate in formal, non-formal and informal lifelong learning, a long way short of the EU benchmark of 12.5% participation by 2010. The Member States with the highest attainment in lifelong learning are Finland, Sweden, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Austria (see Figure 2). In these countries, between 40 and 56% of workers reported to receive paid training at work. The EFTA-countries Switzerland and Norway have also high training levels. In addition, 15% of Swiss workers themselves also pay for training schemes. According to the ‘Fourth European Working Conditions Survey’ in 200718, less than 30% of EU employees received any type of training at work in 2005. The levels of training have not increased in the last 10 years. There are, however, very substantial country differences. At the bottom of the league are most southern and eastern European countries, where the levels of training are very low, hardly reaching 20% of employees in Spain, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Romania and only 10% of workers in Bulgaria and Turkey. Within the EU, expenditure on continuing training represents only 1-2.2% of total labour costs.

Figure 2: Percentage of employees who received training, by country (%)


O. Giarini and M. Malitza postulate an interlocking system of learning and work, whereby workers in many sectors would alternate between education and work.19 According to this theory, active people would earn credits for both productive and non-productive periods during their life span to the age of 76. The distinction between work and education would blur, as credits for both would become increasingly interchangeable. Accomplishment in both areas would be evaluated and quantified. In addition to the usual degrees and diplomas, persons would earn ‘stars’ for continued academic accomplishment — with transferable credits from work. Over a lifetime of creative work and education, a typical person would accumulate credits — over a thousand of them for an academically ambitious person by the age of 76 — and a corresponding number of award stars.

11 The ‘puzzle’ of the knowledge society, European Foundation for the Improvement for Living and Working Conditions, Dublin, 2005, p.2
12 The EU Foundation’s Handbook of Knowledge Society Foresight (2003):
13 European Foundation, Dr. Hubert Krieger, New work biographies in Europe: a challenge to develop an EU work life policy, June 2004,
14 Communication of the European Commission Increasing the Employment of Older Workers and Delaying the Exit from the Labour Market, p. 10-11.
15 See for the latter Agency Eurofound its work on ageing at:
16 OECD paper Towards more and better jobs, Employment Outlook 2003, pp. 240-41.
17 DIF — Droit Individuel de Formation; the DIF is supposed to depend on the employee’s initiative but the employer has a duty to initiate the training programmes required to maintain people in their job.
18 European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Dublin:
19 Orio Giarini and Mircea Malitza, The double helix of learning and work, Studies on Science and Culture, UNESCO, Bucharest, 2003, pp. 9-10

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Tags: ,