Older workers, employability and tertiary education and training
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As working populations age, issues associated with older workers' employability and lifelong learning arise for national economies, enterprises, communities and workers. This paper seeks to outline the range and extent of these issues and how the provision of tertiary education and training (TET) in Australia might best respond. In all, it proposes that rather than proceeding with the response of a uniform kind, that these issues are likely to play out in particular and distinct (i.e. different) ways for older workers. Those impacts most likely warranting a TET response are those for workers in occupations that are not age tolerant, and for workers whom have lower levels of educational achievement, engage in low status of work, with narrow pathways experience and whose workplace circumstances, health or dispositions inhibit effective learning for or within working life. Therefore, rather than comprising a problem for all workers aged over 45, issues associated older workers' employability will be partial and distributed differentially across the older working population. Indeed, there may be greater similarities across other measures of disadvantage (i.e. levels of education, kinds of employment, life chances etc) than with categories of age. The paper commences by advancing some propositions about older workers, employability and their lifelong learning as a series of context statements and premises for any response from tertiary education and training. When considering how best to promote the employability of older workers through tertiary education and training initiatives, the following are likely to be worth noting. Firstly, workers ordinarily continue to learn through their work, and older workers are no exception. They report that they have and continue to demonstrate the capacity to engage with new tasks, novel work practices, emerging technologies as part of their everyday work. Secondly, however, wholesale change for these workers can be confronting, particularly if their work histories have been stable, and has comprised similar kinds of activities over an extended period of time. Thirdly, perceptions of employers and supervisors about older workers limited capacities are often contradicted by other forms of evidence. Fourthly, the often reported reluctance of older workers to participate in training might arise through a lack of confidence, or genuine beliefs by these workers that they are competent and effectively addressing new challenges. These are what they commonly report. Fifthly, changing work requirements including the increase in conceptual and symbolic knowledge, the growth of professional, paraprofessional and technical work most likely to impact upon workers with low levels of educational achievement, and particularly those work histories has not availed them of opportunities to learn and engage. Sixthly, and finally, approaches to and models of continuing education for these workers might need to go beyond those through existing TET provisions that were primary established for initial occupational preparation and which position the learner as a student, rather than as a collaborator in their own and others' learning. Each of these topics is discussed and implications for tertiary education and training are elaborated.
Older workers: Research readings
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Technical, Further and Workplace Education