Demographic change in Europe will have a major impact on its society and economy, but few companies are actually adapting their human resource practices to the ageing of the workforce. Despite encouraging results from initiatives that show the value of investing in ageing workers, better access to and more participation in lifelong learning remain major challenges. What can policy-makers do to encourage workers, employers and educators to take action? What are the key factors in successful active ageing policies? Where are barriers to investment in an ageing workforce, and what is its potential?

These highly relevant issues were addressed at the international seminar Learning later in life – Uncovering the potential of investing in an ageing workforce, jointly organised by Cedefop and the European Commission in Brussels on 21 and 22 September 2011.

One clear message from the seminar was that prevailing attitudes – particularly those of employers – about training for ageing workers need to change. Human resource departments tend to see training as a ‘retention strategy’ for older workers rather than as a means to improve skills, productivity and job satisfaction. This approach is unlikely to lead to better use of the skills of an ageing workforce.

Companies need to develop a new ‘demographic literacy’ to:

  • understand that demographic change is imminent;
  • be able to analyse their own workforce’s age structure; and
  • ensure that their efficiency, productivity and capacity for innovation are not affected by the rise in the average working age.

To do this successfully, they should incorporate the age factor into all aspects of human resource management. Firms that have analysed their workforce’s age structure are already adopting age-friendly HR practices. Above all companies should not underestimate the value of training. Employers consider training less important than product development, marketing and work organisation – yet all of these depend on well-trained, creative employees of all ages. SMEs in particular need a strategy to identify training needs, implement training, and evaluate its results.

Older workers do have specific training requirements. They want their own experience and knowledge to be taken seriously, and to be integrated into the learning experience. But they enjoy being part of an intergenerational learning environment. Training programmes for entrepreneurship also tend to focus too narrowly on young people. As seminar participants heard, Europe lags behind Latin America in entrepreneurship training for this age group. In fact, ‘grey’ entrepreneurs, with their greater human and social capital, tend to be more successful.

Cedefop will publish the outcomes of the event in its publication series Working and Ageing to complement previous work on ageing and adult learning. The seminar was part of the preparation of the European Year for Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity 2012.

For further information, please contact Cedefop experts:

Jasper van Loo ( ) or

Alexandra )

Relevant Cedefop publications