It wasn’t that long ago that alarm bells were being rung, that not only were students studying for degrees that would be out-of-date by the time they graduated, but they could well find themselves applying for jobs that didn’t even exist when they became students. This dilemma is no longer confined to further education students, but to school pupils as well, when choosing their study options. The World Economic Forum estimates that two thirds of children who started school in 2016 will eventually be employed in jobs that do not yet exist.

“different views, opinions and approaches of a multi-generational workforce can invigorate the workplace and foster a new environment of creativity and problem solving“

This raises the challenge of how to help young people gain the necessary skills for the ever-changing workplace, but it actually extends to all generations. The idea of a career for life has long since evolved and people are far more likely to be mobile in their career, moving from company to company and even industry to industry. This whole trend throws focus on the need to gain new skills and re-skill, whether you are an entry level employee or more established in your career. The skills agenda may seem like a mountain to climb and there are undoubted challenges to be met and resolved, but there are also great opportunities through lifelong learning.

It is clear that lifelong learning starts from an early age, but it is important that learning is holistic, taking into account all the skills that someone needs as they grow up and enter the workforce, not just curriculum subjects. Educational establishments have a great part to play in preparing young people for the world of work that awaits them, and the earlier this process starts, the better it is for the pupils and students. As well as being flexible and adaptive, they have a role in helping young people acquire the soft skills that employers value as much as they do qualifications, technical skills and experience. With so much pressure to deliver the curriculum, schools and colleges need to be allowed to deliver activities that support personal as well as educational development.

Apprenticeships are another ideal opportunity to help young people gain a qualification, and more life skills, whilst training on the job. Employers have had a significant influence on the design of apprenticeships which help ensure that apprentices are learning what is relevant to their particular workplace. Apprentices will learn invaluable skills from their colleagues and in turn, they can offer a fresh pair of eyes and a new perspective on established work practices. So often apprentices are described as a ‘breath of fresh air’.

Graduates do not always enter professions that match their degree but the skills and attitudes they used to gain their qualifications are welcomed by employers. Many businesses have graduate schemes to help integrate them into the business and provide them with mentoring.

Savvy employers also tap into the fresh perspective of their new employees for ideas on how to meet the challenges the business faces through schemes such as reverse mentoring. As with apprentices, the exchange of different views, opinions and approaches of a multigenerational workforce can invigorate the workplace and foster a new environment of creativity and problem solving.

Of course, there are plenty of options to be considered for existing staff to ensure their skills are up-to-date and meet the needs of the business. Lifelong learning enables employees the chance to reskill by encompassing a range of options, such as training, work shadowing and a range of CPD opportunities. And with an increasing recognition of the importance of soft skills, programmes that provide personal as well as professional development have an important part to play.

In a world that is becoming ever more reliant on technology and digital workplace solutions, there are two sides of the digital coin that need to be addressed. On one hand, it is vital that employers create opportunities for all staff to be digitally literate and on the other, potential employees need to have the digital qualifications that businesses require.

#championagediversityThe Institute of Coding is playing its part in addressing the digital skills gap and is committed to attracting new talent into digital careers by delivery flexible courses. It is doing this by bringing together industry, government, higher education and outreach partners together to create new courses as well as empowering organisations to bridge the digital skills gap. It is making courses available to people of all ages, backgrounds and financial status so that they gain qualifications that match the needs of the business world.

There is no doubt that at the heart of what is needed to meet the needs of business and industry is a commitment to lifelong learning, whether that be formal or informal opportunities. Recent research has recorded that learning is also a major contributor to happiness, so it would seem that lifelong learning is not only important for economic productivity, but to a happy workforce, thus presenting the prospect of a win-win scenario.


Lifelong learning and age diversity in the workplace, go hand-in-hand in developing a multi-generational workforce, that is great for well-being, in terms of a happier and healthier workforce, but it also provides the foundations for innovation and productivity, that drives improved business performance.

Jill Cowles | Partnership Manager | The Age Diversity Forum

Contact: [email protected]