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Training for Older Returners


A man at a wipe board
As the new age discrimination laws start to bite, and the retirement brain drain continues to suck grey matter out of the workplace, corporate Britain is increasingly mindful of the issues surrounding employing older people.

Some companies, like ASDA - which famously removed the date of birth from its recruitment forms this summer - have long been ‘age champions’, consciously adopting HR policies to encourage the employment of older staff, including retired people who want to return to the workplace. As well as ticking the boxes on their diversity wish lists, these companies are reaping practical benefits.

“Once an older person is skilled they are very reliable, and easy to work with because they have no axes to grind; they’re not playing games,” says Sue Loggin, Training Manager at Rachel Mallows Services to Business, which provides “Return to Work” courses for older people and the companies that employ them.

However, there are a number of issues to manage when 160115employing older people, quite apart from the implications of the age discrimination legislation. And although many age-friendly organisations - including ASDA - treat older returners just like any other employee when it comes to training, there is a trend for providing tailor-made training packages which addresses some of the challenges.

In common with people returning to work after a period of illness, unemployment or bringing up children, older returners can benefit from training to boost their confidence skills, says Keren Smedley, a Partner at Age Talks Ltd, a company which delivers training packages for older returners around the issue of performance management. “They may feel they have been out of the workplace for a long time and are not sure how they will fit back into it,” says Smedley, who together with Partner Helen Whitten has written a book about the challenges of employing older people, entitled “Age Matters, Employing, Motivating and Managing Older Employees”.

As well as general confidence building, another key issue for older returners is brushing up on technological skills. “They may worry about technology having sped ahead,” says Smedley – and generally that’s exactly what’s happened. In the area of technical skills training, it’s important to keep things simple without being patronising. “You may have to start with the basics, such as how to surf the net and send an email,” says Sue Loggin, who adds that other office technology such as faxes and photocopiers should be included in a returners course. “Office equipment has changed a lot over recent years, as everything has become more complicated,” she says. “Even good old photocopiers are pretty scary things these days.”

Loggin stresses the importance of easing older returners gently back into working life, especially if they have been out of the loop for some time – starting with a training package that is as unintimidating as possible. “Training rooms in offices can be scary places. If a person has been out of the workplace a long time it may be worthwhile going to their home to meet them, go through the paperwork with them and spend time getting to know them,” she says, adding that the form-filling should be kept to a minimum. “Don’t drown them in paperwork, because that will daunt them from the start,” she warns.

Some tricky issues that might be addressed in a training package include preparing older returners for dealing with other employees, many of whom may be younger than themselves and higher up the corporate ladder. “There are issues to be managed for people who have been in a senior role in the past and may now be managed by people who are the same age as their children,” says Keren Smedley, who adds that the younger managers can also benefit from training to help them deal with this issue. “If you’re 35 and managing someone of 60 years old who looks like your mum or dad, how do you deal with that? When we’re delivering training for groups of employees in companies, we try to help both the older workers and the people managing them to see it from both sides.”

Other common challenges faced by older returners, and which can be covered in training courses, include their sense of being employed to do a job for which they are over qualified, and being powerless to change the way things are done in the company when they believe things could be done better. “I think many older returners come back to do work that is not at a level they feel they could do,” says Smedley. “They should be encouraged to use their skills and should not be considered too old to learn anything. They may also feel that they know best. These are issues that need to be managed.”

Another problem faced by older returners is a sense of being uninvolved in the company, especially if they are working flexibly. “A lot of returners come back part-time and feel left out. Training can help them cope,” says Smedley. From the company’s point of view, the involvement of older employees should extend to social events, she adds. Employers and fellow staff need to be aware that many older people will be happy to join in with office jollies. “Younger employees should not assume that their older colleagues won’t want to join in the fun activities,” says Smedley. “A lot of older people are out there dating and having fun. They might not want to go to the pub after work, but they might.”

When devising training for older returners the new rules on age discrimination will naturally come to mind, since they cover access and admission to training courses delivered by employers and training providers. The text of the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 makes it clear that when training is aimed at a specific age group the company must “objectively justify any age-related criterion” and demonstrate a “legitimate aim” for setting the criterion. Since training for older returners has the legitimate aim of helping older people to fit into the workplace it will be justifiable and within the spirit of the law, says Smedley. However, companies will obviously need to seek legal advice on their own specific programmes.

The new legislation has provided an ideal opportunity for considering the training needs of older returners – and the issues facing older employees generally – says Smedley. “This is a good time to talk about it,” she comments. “This is the only issue that we will all be faced with at some time in our lives. A lot of people used to argue that it’s not an issue, but now it’s not arguable.”

More Information

Rachel Mallows Services to Business

Age Talks Ltd

Age Matters, Employing, Motivating and Managing Older Employees, by Keren Smedley and Helen Whitten, is published by Gower, priced £75.00. Details can be found at:


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