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Reaching out to older workers: assembling the pieces of the guidance jigsaw

EPALE Thematic Coordinator Andrew McCoshan reviews key literature on the guidance needs of older workers and finds some important gaps in the current provision.

Jigsaw Puzzle


EPALE Thematic Coordinator Andrew McCoshan reviews key literature on the guidance needs of older workers and finds some important gaps in the current provision.


There has been much activity at European and national levels in recent years to develop outreach and guidance services. Much attention has been focused on the young and on people with low formal skills. This is understandable. The economic crisis and subsequent surge in unemployment caused large-scale and immediate challenges that had to be dealt with, and which continue to this moment in many countries.

Nonetheless, like a clock ticking away in the background, the steady ageing of Europe’s population has carried on regardless and throws up many challenges of its own. We have already seen an increase in the retirement age in some countries, and people remain fitter and able to work for much longer than used to be the case. Such developments are intersecting with changes in the nature of employment, due to the rise of new technologies, which mean that people are much more likely to change occupations and careers several times during their lifetime than previously. Together, these factors mean we have a serious question to address:

How do we equip older workers with the career management skills they need not only to stay in the labour market for longer but also to achieve personal fulfilment during their working careers?

What do we need to do? Evidence suggests a significant challenge lies ahead.

‘If attitudes of, and towards, older workers are to change, a much deeper transformation must take place involving all key stakeholders. Individuals should be better prepared to cope with the various employability challenges faced in later life.’

There are number of jigsaw pieces we need to assemble:

Adult learning guidance jigsaw



Older workers and their employers alike may need to be persuaded of the need for guidance. Typically, guidance, where it is available, tends to be focused by employers on young recruits and on people on management grades.



Related to the need to raise awareness is the need to make guidance services accessible to older workers. Public employment services and adult education providers are often in lead roles in terms of guidance services, and they should look to develop outreach for older workers. Digitalisation offers many opportunities for older workers to access guidance services, such as self-assessment tools, from their workplaces and homes.



Much effort has gone into improving the quality of guidance services in recent years, and the same efforts should be extended to guidance for older workers, making available common tools, and ensuring that guidance staff are equipped with the professional skills they need. For example, lack of confidence and self-belief are not uncommon amongst older workers and staff may need new skills, for instance to conduct reflective learning techniques.



In many ways, social partners hold the key to successful outreach and guidance for older workers: it won’t be enough simply for public employment services or adult education providers to try to act on their own. Employers need to be encouraged to take seriously the idea that career management should be available for all workers. And, more than that, they should seek to ensure that career management is linked to wider age management strategies, which are currently underdeveloped, hardly ever being embedded in human resource strategies or indeed national government policies. Trade unions can play their part as well, advocating these developments on behalf of their members.



Governments can do much to support the developments outlined above by providing the necessary frameworks of legislation and strategies. For example, consideration could be given to providing older workers with the vouchers to ‘purchase’ guidance services. Government can also consider ensuring that mechanisms to recognise prior learning are put in place and adequately funded.



In a context where the key stakeholders may need persuading of the value of guidance services, it becomes all the more important to build a solid base of evidence to demonstrate what type of interventions work. Monitoring the outcomes of policies and practices, and assembling examples of what works and why, are a key part of the jigsaw.

At a time of constrained resources, and when there seem to be more immediate needs to be tackled, finding the space to take on these new challenges may seem daunting. But the ageing workforce is a ticking clock that cannot be ignored forever and building an adequate infrastructure now will help to avoid problems later on. I have tried to identify some of the jigsaw pieces that we need, but I’m sure the picture is not complete. What would you add?

Andrew McCoshan has worked in education and training for over 30 years. For more than 15 years he has conducted studies and evaluations for the EU, and before that was a consultant in the UK. Andrew is currently an independent researcher and consultant, and Senior Research Associate at the Educational Disadvantage Centre at Dublin City University in Ireland.

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EPALE Discussie: Wat kunnen we doen om de volwasseneneducatie beter te maken voor mensen met een beperking?

In juni richt EPALE de schijnwerpers op hoe mensen met een beperking kunnen bijleren. We horen graag van jou hoe we volwasseneneducatie voor mensen met een beperking kunnen verbeteren. De schriftelijke discussie (in het Engels) zal plaatsvinden op 8 juni om 14 uur (CEST).

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