Don’t Ignore Your Older Workforce During Technology Change

The digital revolution is changing the way we do business at a staggering rate. Often when it comes to changes in technology, workforce planning processes tend to focus on hiring fresh talent from outside an organization rather than focusing on retraining existing workers.

Leaders also shortsightedly contribute to the obsolescence of their older workers by keeping them attached to the legacy systems they helped develop instead of allowing them to work on newer technologies, despite the employee’s request to upskill or contribute.

With low unemployment, high demand for technology professionals, and workers choosing to work longer, these practices negatively impact organizations and older workers alike.

Here are four key considerations for leaders to engage their tenured workforce:

Develop a culture of learning

Rather than waiting until a change is imminent, savvy technology leaders provide continuous opportunities to learn new technologies proactively, especially to experienced workers who have often demonstrated their ability to learn repeatedly.

Provide best practice meetings and lunch-and-learns led by older employees or boomers to discuss new ideas and techniques that can help create a learning organization. Exposure to the latest in artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain, and other automation tools can be a powerful way to spark innovation and keep employees current.

Exposure to new technologies can also be provided through conferences and summits that discuss technology in the workplace. Managers can take this a step further and ask participating employees to provide a small presentation reporting on their attendance so that all employees can be exposed. By having older employees that attended become the go-to source for other employees interested, you are no longer segregating employees by age or savviness.

Communicate early, often, and transparently

As a leader, it is critical to set a clear vision that explains the reason for the change and emphasizes the benefits while also sharing the challenges faced. Sharing information openly and honestly will go a long way. If the change means working extra hours for some time as they fulfill the duties of their current role while taking on the new project, be upfront about it.

Managers should vary their methods of communication by being consistent across platforms such as live meetings, company podcasts, and newsletters. For older workers, we often see a gravitation towards live meetings. Employees want to see and feel the authenticity of the message. Town halls and individual face-to-face meetings tend to be most impactful for longer-tenured employees.

Take a career planning approach

First, knowing the skills needed to move forward with the new technology and communicating these needs is important. Then, having an open dialogue and letting employees know they have a choice to come along in the process or not, can go a long way to gaining commitment.

Having individual career planning discussions about how the new technology could change their role and whether the changes align with the employee’s interests and motivators is a powerful step. We tend to shy away from having these discussions with older workers, but it is often the best approach. When done right, these conversations personalize the messaging, demonstrate you care about each employee, and can positively set the stage for harder conversations down the road.

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Longer tenured employees who have been more internally focused may need more help thinking about this. Using assessment tools can often help with direction during the transition. For those individuals who are contemplating whether to transition out of full-time work, Life Options Profile™ is a good resource to assess readiness. Individual Directions Inventory™ explores motivations and preferences which could be used to examine fulfillment.

Build robust training programs

Most organizations understand the importance of technology training to prepare employees directly impacted by new technology. In order to create a culture of learning that values open dialogue, it is very beneficial to train behaviors such as growth mindset, giving and receiving feedback, adaptability, and having candid conversations.

Everyone learns new things all the time, but we don’t all learn the same way. To make training as effective as possible, consider how people learn best. People learn new material best if it is presented in the way they focus best. There are two basic ways to intake new material, and most people prefer one over the other. Some people learn better by getting the facts and the process steps first. They use the facts as the foundation to begin to figure out how to utilize such training and incorporate it into their work. Other people really need to know the “why” first; the reason they need to know the material and the intended impact it will have on their regular work. After knowing that, the facts and steps become much easier to focus on because they now know the context and the end-product.

Bootcamps and online assessments

Companies should consider a mix of tutoring — small in-person classes delivered by people who know the employees’ work as well as the tech — along with the typical training webinar delivered by a tech expert.

Assessment tools like DiSC and StrengthFinders or other work style and career interest instruments help identify strengths and areas for growth.

Online learning platforms including General Assembly, Coursera, and edX offer a range of no-to-low cost programs — all the way through advanced learning — that can help older employees learn the latest skills to enhance their career opportunities, and learn about new technologies and their implications.

Change is not easy for young and older workers alike. Investing the time to plan and have meaningful conversations to prepare and retrain your long-tenured employees can not only impact your bottom line but also can create a culture of change champions who are excited to learn, grow and share their knowledge with new employees for years to come. A true win-win!

Sarah Scudder is Director, Career Transition at Keystone Partners and works with leaders from various industries, including individual contributors to upper-level executives. She frequently delivers career coaching workshops on topics such as networking, interviewing, and negotiating, and is the facilitator for a bi-weekly networking team.

Previously, Sarah worked in HR leadership positions at a major consumer products manufacturing firm as well as a privately held, family-owned and operated holding company. In her roles, she worked with teams to design programs and processes to support growing companies and their organizational talent management strategy. 

Sarah holds a BS in Marketing and Management from Western Illinois University and an MS in Human Resources and Organizational Development Coursework from Loyola University Chicago.

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