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Safety Update: Older and Wiser–But They Still Need Training

by Chris Kilbourne

Source: Safety Daily Advisor

Do you have more older workers on the job these days? If you answered “yes,” it’s not surprising. The American population is aging, and so is the nation’s workforce. Since September is Healthy Aging Month, let’s take a look at this reality and its effect on training.

People are remaining on the job longer for a number of reasons:

  • They need more money to sustain them because they are living longer.
  • They need work-provided benefits, especially in light of pressure on pensions and Social Security.
  • They seek the stimulation and sense of productivity that come from meaningful work.
  • They enjoy feeling valued for their experience and knowledge.


An aging workforce means there are more older workers to train than ever before—and that will continue to be true for many years to come. Consider adapting your training to meet the special needs of an aging workforce.

Are they getting the training they need?

Despite the growing number of older people in the workforce, some employers are reluctant to spend training dollars on older workers. They may think that they won’t be with the company long enough to make it worthwhile, or that their experience lessens the return on training.

Supervisors and managers who conduct safety training often discount older workers, too, and focus their attention on younger employees, who take more risks and have more accidents. But the fact is that older workers need all kinds of training—including safety training.

With methods and technologies changing fast in so many areas, all workers need to keep their skills and knowledge up to date. Besides, your older workers are valuable employees, who tend to have a stronger sense of loyalty and commitment to the job and the organization, a better work ethic, a better attendance record, better judgment, lower turnover, and fewer accidents.

So it just makes good business sense to make sure they get the training they need to continue to work safely and productively.

Older workers learn best when training:

  • Builds on prior knowledge and experience
  • Follows a step-by-step approach
  • Allows plenty of time to assimilate information (self-paced learning is often ideal for older workers)
  • Provides handouts to be taken home for study
  • Gives an adequate opportunity for practice
  • Provides support and encouragement
  • Involves plenty of interaction, discussion, feedback, etc.
  • Provides a positive learning environment (e.g., a well-lit area, easy-to-see visual aids, good acoustics so that trainees can hear clearly, and frequent breaks to use rest rooms)


Unfortunately, trainers sometimes fall into the trap of pigeonholing older workers, and as a result, the training they provide doesn’t meet the needs of this important segment of the workforce. For example:

  • Don’t stereotype older workers. They aren’t all sitting around waiting for retirement. They are productive, competent people with lots of valuable knowledge and experience.
  • Don’t assume older workers can’t or don’t want to learn new technologies. They can acquire the necessary skills effectively when appropriate training is available—and are often eager to do so in order to remain on the job and continue to make a meaningful contribution.
  • Don’t waste time teaching them what they already know and can already do proficiently.
  • But don’t assume that they don’t need training just because of their age and experience. They may lack required skills or need refresher training.

Why It Matters

  • The proportion of the U.S. population of people age 65 and older is projected to increase from 12.4 percent in 2000 to 19.6 percent in 2030 and continue to grow through 2050.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age of the U.S. civilian labor force was projected to reach a record high of 40.7 in 2008. After 1962, the median age had declined steadily until 1980 and it has been rising ever since.


Industry sectors with decreasing numbers of workers are experiencing an overall higher median age due to Baby Boomers staying in the workforce longer and “last hired, first fired” policies