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Why the UK needs older people trained in tech to answer the skills gap

Victoria Tomlinson

Victoria Tomlinson

Victoria launched Next-Up to help people find new ways to use their skills in unretirement. Next-Up runs pre-retirement workshops for corporates and professional firms and has an online platform to help all employees pre-retirement (public and private sectors). Next-Up’s podcast, Rethink Retirement, helps people with inspiration and ideas for unretirement.
technology training

In business, success may depend on technological transformation. Yet, suppose older people in leadership positions don’t have the training to understand the new tech and its value. In that case, innovators within the company will struggle to convert the C-suite and board, limiting growth potential and survival in a competitive climate.


Technology continues to advance, yet a generational skills gap in and outside work is growing and threatens to stall progress. In many industries, there are currently four generations of people working alongside each other and bringing a wealth of skills to the table. However, the imbalance of tech skills between the younger and older generations in the workplace can cause a multitude of issues.


The UK is currently experiencing skills shortages in various industries. Research recently found that the UK government’s failure to address the skills gap in the last few years is costing £6 billion in lost GDP per year.


During the pandemic, retired professionals were called upon to return to front-line roles, and the sky didn’t fall! These individuals were more than capable of getting down to business and embracing new skills where necessary. Yet there is a lack of investment and a reluctance in many companies to train mature employees in recent/relevant tech skills. This is counterintuitive to ability and industry needs.


Imbalance causing issues

When one generation lacks the necessary tech skills to participate in progress, many issues present themselves. On one level, you have older people struggling to purchase a parking ticket due to local councils switching to a parking app system. There is an assumption that everyone knows how to download and use an app. This indicates a lack of research and a false belief that everyone has tech abilities and a smartphone.

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On a higher level, I have worked with partners in professional firms that would not use social media, despite the proven networking value of Linkedin. What struck me was the older generation was looking at people using social media and finding what they perceived as ‘exposure’ distasteful. However, virtual networking and many other digital skills became invaluable during the pandemic.


In business, success may depend on technological transformation. Yet, suppose older people in leadership positions don’t have the training to understand the new tech and its value. In that case, innovators within the company will struggle to convert the C-suite and board, limiting growth potential and survival in a competitive climate.


Age and the growing tech skills gap

Technology progresses quickly, so when one group of people haven’t engaged with it at an early stage, it can feel impossible to catch up. Then it becomes easier to decide “technology isn’t for me” and excuse themselves from embracing it. This mindset isn’t helped by a general societal attitude that technology is only for the young. Somewhere along the line, businesses have also adopted the idea that older people aren’t interested in technology and have not made an investment in this training a priority.


Many employers have decided there’s no point in trying to train people as they get closer to retirement, which is ludicrous because the older generations tend to be the ones who are supervising and managing the workforce. They are the ones who should be owning technology and inputting their experience and skills into how it’s designed and used.

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A lack of shared skills within a workforce impacts communication and understanding. Everyone must have shared goals and mindsets to build an adaptable workforce with a positive culture, creativity, and efficiency. A widening gap between generations causes communication breakdown and stalls progress towards common goals.


Along the chain from inception to adoption of tech innovations, older people are being cut out of the process. The answer to this problem is simple; better communication and involving the broader workforce in technology development and workplace practices.


False generational assumptions


Despite the attitude that older people can’t or won’t use tech, the pandemic gave us a great example that this isn’t the case. As it became imperative during the Covid lockdowns to use technology to shop, manage their banking, and stay in touch with colleagues and relatives, many older people quickly picked up these skills.


The pandemic was not the first time older generations faced a societal crisis. This may have been the first global pandemic in over 100 years, but many mature employees have faced three recessions during their careers. They were able to meet the pandemic with practicality and support younger colleagues and relatives that had no idea what to expect. There is no reason to assume that people over 50 cannot apply the same skills to adopting technology into their roles.


Several high-profile people also lead the example that age does not mean you become incapable. In her 90’s, the queen has a diary that would terrify much younger people, David Attenborough is still making significant contributions to conservation, and James Lovelock, published a book on the future of AI at the age of 100. There are 12 million people over 65 in the UK, and lifespans are increasing. It is wasteful not to utilise this wealth of experience and skills.

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Resolving the generational gap


A majority of executives identified both digital transformation and hiring and retaining talent as critical growth drivers for 2022. Further, an estimated 85 million jobs will go unfilled globally by 2030 due to skills shortages, resulting in about $8.5 trillion in unrealised annual revenues. With people retiring at later ages, bringing older people up to speed in digital literacy could go a long way towards resolving skills shortages.


A recent study found that half of non-retired over 50s (47%) stated they were interested in attending a training course to learn new or update existing skills. Later life, training has become crucial as more people want to work longer. Lifelong learning and adult re-skilling are vital, especially as the future of work increasingly involves technology.


Many of these issues can be resolved at the ground level within workplaces. I have seen excellent results from companies utilising a cross-mentoring approach to training. Older and younger people working together encourages the development of skills, but also communication and respect. To resolve the skills gap, Employers must inspire community and tolerance within company culture.


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