EUROPEAN PAPERS ON THE NEW WELFARE

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

2.6 Matching Labour Market Needs and Training

Since Europe is characterised by a great diversity of training systems, the EU Commission has recognised the need for increased transparency of workers’ qualifications by developing a European Qualifications Framework (EQF).32 The core element of this framework is a set of eight reference levels which will act as a common reference point for education and training authorities at national and sectoral level. The eight levels cover the entire span of qualifications from those achieved at the end of compulsory education and training to those awarded at the highest level of academic, professional and vocational education and training.
The description of the EQF reference levels is based on learning outcomes in the EQF understood as the statements of what a learner knows, understands and is able to do on completion of a learning process. Research findings reveal that learning situations should permit older learners in particular to make links with his or her previous working experience. The training should take account of the worker’s practical interests. What is learnt could then be used in practical problem-solving tasks. The focus on learning outcomes reflects an important shift in the way education, training and learning is conceptualised and described. This policy change introduces a common language allowing the comparison of qualifications according to their content and profile and not according to methods and processes of delivery.
At the meeting in Helsinki in 2006, the European Ministers responsible for education and training, the European Social Partners and the European Commission came to the conclusion that more attention should be paid to the status and attractiveness of vocational education and training (VET).33 As a further tool paving the way towards a European VET area, the Helsinki Communiqué emphasises the development of the European Credit System for VET (ECVET).34 Since vocational education and training does not fall under the exclusive competence of the Community, the task now will be to improve coordination and trust between the stakeholders on sectoral, national and European level and to make the implementation of the objectives agreed on in Helsinki happen.

3. Conclusions: Vocational Training for All Ages

To recapitulate, continuous training keeps peoples’ minds sharp and their employability high. Enhancing the employment rate of the elderly means to take a lifelong perspective on the need for continuous vocational training, ensuring that across the labour market regular, tailored training becomes a habit for all ages. Increased training of workers aged 50-plus can both increase their productivity and defer their labour market exit. The social partners have a crucial role in promoting learning-conducive workplaces which release the learning potential of employees.
Regardless of whether decision makers seek to promote access to training, active ageing policies and flexible working time practices, if they want to involve more elderly citizens in the labour market the focus should not be limited to the 50-plus age cohorts. Ageing in a healthy way means being active and receiving continuing training input throughout the life cycle. Work adaptability and employability means upskilling and adjusting competences from the beginning of a career path. The policies mentioned above can only be successful if they are accompanied by measures that increase the employability of old workers: a holistic policy of change management is needed.35
Regrettably, age still reinforces the inequalities in access to continuing training which separate wage-earners according to their socio-professional group from the very beginning of working life. Training and the acquired learning outcome should have a concrete impact on career paths: better articulation between training and career advancement would undoubtedly help to increase the desire for training at all ages. Such a prospect presumes a new approach to lifelong learning which would envisage training programmes at all ages in the function of qualification levels.
Indeed, measures aimed at those over 50 without distinction, thus denying the multiplicity of strategies, objectives, employment conditions and above all career paths, cannot reduce inequalities and are even likely to aggravate them. Employability depends critically on their level of human capital. Paradoxically, efforts to change attitudes by promoting positive images of older people can end up reinforcing age-related stereotypes. Every statement that an older worker is more reliable sends out the message that a younger worker is unreliable. The Employers Forum on Age (EFA), a network of leading British employer organisations, is promoting an even-handed campaign proclaiming that, in the long term, discrimination against younger workers could turn into the biggest issue facing employers.36
Further research however is needed regarding the ongoing learning of older workers and the ways in which different sectors are affected by socio-economic developments towards more knowledge-intensive processes. The employment problems confronting older workers are likely to intensify unless counteractive measures are taken and efforts made to establish age-appropriate human resources policies. In the ‘Silver Society’, training must become an attractive option for younger, medium-age and experienced workers alike, in other words it must become age-neutral.


32 Proposal for a Recommendation on the establishment of the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning (COM(2006)479 final), 9 September 2006; see also the Commissions website: ec.europa.eu/ education/policies/educ/eqf/index_en.html.
33 The Helsinki Communiqué on Enhanced European Cooperation in VET; see website of the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Education and Training (CEDEFOP): www.cedefop.europa.eu/index.asp?section=3&read=2198
34 http://ec.europa.eu/education/ecvt/index_en.html.
35 Regarding suggestions bringing in line the productivity of older workers and related wages policies see: OECD Working Paper No. 420 The Impact of Ageing on Demand, Factor Markets and Growth, 29 March 2005, pp. 5-6, www.oecd.org/eco, op. cit.
36 See the EFA website: www.efa.org.uk.

References

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