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In the midst of an epic labor shortage that could last for years, employers need all the help they can get. That includes older workers, who make up a growing portion of the multi-generational labor force. The challenge is that workers will need to keep their skills up to date as they age. According to the World Economic Forum’s latest Future of Jobs report, “On average, companies estimate that around 40% of workers will require reskilling of six months or less and 94% of business leaders report that they expect employees to pick up new skills on the job, a sharp uptake from 65% in 2018.”

Yet a major hurdle stands in the way: conventional wisdom on retraining older workers assumes that these employees are too set in their ways to learn new things, or simply unable to grasp new technology. Business experts, academics and researchers are increasingly coming out to say that’s inherently false. In fact, these workers are not only open to learning new skills, they possess under-appreciated skills that benefit their workplaces.

To address the psychological factors standing in the way of reskilling older workers, business leaders will need to take a few important steps, according to academic research and the insights of AARP, which spearheads the AARP Employer Pledge Program. In taking that pledge, hundreds of U.S. companies have committed to fostering age-diverse workforces and affirming the value of experienced workers. Among the steps recommended:

Confront Ageism Head-on  

While Corporate America has made pledges in the past year to do better on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), the issue of ageism has been largely left out. “Age is often overlooked in these conversations, yet simultaneously it’s an increasingly important issue because age demographics are fast changing, in society and the workplace, and because age is the universal social category,” said Michael S. North, an assistant professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business and author or the recent report “Equality for (Almost) All: Egalitarian Advocacy Predicts Lower Endorsement of Sexism and Racism, but Not Ageism.”

North found that people who advocate for workplace equity can still hold prejudice toward older individuals and allocate fewer resources to them, he told From Day One. There’s also a belief that older individuals block younger employees, as well as underrepresented groups, from getting ahead, he said.

Heather Tinsley-Fix, AARP's senior advisor for employer engagement, noted that “mindset is the first major hurdle” in focus groups where employees are asked about reskilling and retraining older workers. “It’s a matter of addressing the stereotypes and questioning them,” she said.

For a company to enact an age-inclusive culture shift, buy-in has to come from everyone. “You can’t do this in a vacuum. You need leadership buy-in and support, with HR on board, the CFO, executive leadership,” Tinsley-Fix said. Supporting older employees, particularly when it comes to training and reskilling, will require dedicated money and resources. “Spending more on training, upskilling, bias training, employee resource groups–all of these things–can’t be a fluffy concept without support behind it.”

Understand Your Company’s Demographics 

To bring meaningful changes, a company needs to have a deep understanding of the demographics of its workforce. Tinsley-Fix recommended that companies conduct a third-party audit to survey the existing corporate culture as well as the demographic makeup of the workforce, with particular attention to where age intersects with other marginalized identities. “There are so many cross-sections of identity,” she noted, including personal obligations like being a primary caretaker. “Hopefully the clarity of an audit will help guide you.”

An audit can also help companies identify existing employee skill sets, the gaps in those skills, and where reskilling and training is most urgent. The process can bring a cultural shift as well, moving toward an environment that supports employees who suggest new ideas and take risks, as opposed to punitive measures that discourage them.

Don’t Assume Your Older Workforce Needs Intensive Training

Managers might think that older employees need such a high level of training to reskill that it’s not worth the effort, but that’s often a mistaken assumption. “I think the big thing is that they don't need much training,” says Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of business and author of Managing the Older Worker. “Compared to other candidates, they are likely to have better skills and experiences relevant to the jobs.”

Soft skills–creativity, leadership, emotional intelligence–are a particular strength of older workers that should be recognized and celebrated, not undervalued. “While traditionally referred to as ‘soft skills,’ in reality these capabilities are critical to delivering business value and adapting hard skills as workforce needs change,” according to an assessment last year from Deloitte, the professional-services firm. The Future of Work report echoes that view: “The top skills and skill groups which employers see as rising in prominence in the lead up to 2025 include groups such as critical thinking and analysis as well as problem-solving, and skills in self-management such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility.”

Adopt a Growth Mindset and Provide Supports 

Once a company has shifted internal opinions and assumptions away from the idea that people's abilities are fixed and finite, they can move toward the idea that everyone can grow and learn new skills. Companies need to actively recruit employees in this mission and support them, which is a shift from the status quo. “Employers are reluctant to train and retrain,” Cappelli noted, “so all employees are pushed to look outside.”

Tinsley-Fix noted that a growth mindset can be supported by many kinds of internal efforts: formal training, on-the-job training, job swapping, ideation-and-innovation sessions, group problem-solving, incentivizing managers to encourage learning opportunities, and rewarding employees who develop new skills or try new approaches.

These supports should be offered in a variety of formats to accommodate different employee needs. Self-paced and online learning, for example, might be helpful to an employee juggling caregiving responsibilities. As the Harvard Business Review article “Rethinking Retraining” points out, the most successful retraining programs incorporate “stackable” credentials, which are short-term, industry-recognized credentials offered by certificate or non-degree programs that allow workers to balance the demands of the training program with work or family responsibilities.

Companies should be mindful of the diversity of employee learning styles. While some older workers may appear to be slower on their learning curve relative to younger workers, the older group's ability to contextualize new information might also improve retention and thoroughness of comprehension, according to Tinsley-Fix. At the same time, younger counterparts may absorb information faster and quickly master short-term tasks so they can assist employees requiring additional assistance.

Facilitate Mentorship in All Directions

As Cappelli pointed out in Harvard Business Review, “Research suggests that putting older and young workers together helps both groups perform better.” Mentorship is one key program that can facilitate those connections. NYU’s North agrees: “Mentorship should happen in both directions.” Alongside traditional mentoring, in which older employees typically assist their younger colleagues, “I would suggest that workplaces also incorporate reverse mentoring, where the junior generation is mentoring the older generation,” North said.

Mentor relationships can be a way for different generations to connect, break down biases, share skills, and empower one other. It can also serve as an important source of individual support, both for older employees navigating new industry trends and for younger employees developing their professionalism and work ethic.

Be Open to Outside Help 

Many companies won’t have the resources or funding to launch a full-fledged internal professional-development program, at least not quickly. But that shouldn’t stop companies from building the groundwork. Tinsley-Fix suggested forging outside programs or partnerships, like tuition-reimbursement programs for employees. Partnerships with universities and community colleges, she added, can offer opportunities to tailor training programs to specific industry needs.

There are so many ways to foster what Tinsley-Fix calls “a culture of retraining.” Instead of framing this work as a challenge to reskill an older workforce, it’s a larger mindset–and a major economic opportunity–that benefits all workers and builds flexible, diverse companies able to thrive in times of change and uncertainty.

Editor's note: This is the second story in a three-part series. Read the first story here. From Day One thanks our partner in producing this series, AARP.

Emily Nonko is a Brooklyn, NY-based reporter who writes about real estate, architecture, urbanism and design. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, Curbed and other publications.