Older and wiser: certification for older workers

Paul Boughton

Kirstin Donoghue discusses how consistent professional training and certification can be of a real advantage to an older workforce

It’s been called Europe’s demographic time bomb. Some have suggested it’s even more explosive than Europe’s other crisis – the economic situation.

The ageing of Europe’s population is certainly a challenge. Over the last 50 years, life expectancy at birth has increased by around 10 years and projections foresee a further five-year extension over the next half a century. But far from giving us all more leisure time to look forward to, it means working far into our sixties and perhaps beyond. Today’s 30 year-olds may need to work for another 40 years.

With youth unemployment in Europe now exceeding 20 per cent, this could cause tensions. It certainly means that younger professionals are snapping at their older colleagues’ heels. They are hungry for success, willing to learn and often more energetic and career-focused than the rest of the workforce.  At a CAD training event late last year, the majority of attendees (58 per cent) were aged 29 and under, with only 36 per cent aged 30–50.

Thirtysomethings and older may believe that they have finished their learning. Often saddled with many responsibilities, they may even feel slightly complacent about their knowledge. However, technology is changing faster than ever and even those who graduated less than a decade ago, may now be working in an outdated way.

This is especially so in design-based professions such as architecture, structural and civil engineering and product design. Digitisation has brought a transformation in concept design, workflow, testing and analysis and the way prototypes or building models are developed. It has eliminated the need for the complex, but often tedious calculations and co-ordination which often dominated. Traditional methods of working are often still vital to know, but many methods and formulae are now no longer required.

Of course, professionals aged 30-plus are often at the peak of their career. They are in demand, with their experience and knowledge making them valuable assets. Engineering firms all over Europe are still reporting difficulties in recruiting experienced, qualified personnel; for example, last year Norway reported ‘alarming shortages’ especially in civil engineering and in Germany up to 100,000 engineering jobs remained unfilled.

However, many older professionals – even those now in their 30s and 40s - started their working lives in a completely different environment to today. Globalisation wasn’t so prevalent, jobs weren’t so scarce and employers were not so risk averse when it came to hiring staff, so were more willing to train on the job rather than insist on certain qualifications.

Often they taught themselves AutoCAD or other solutions. They may be unaware of ways to maximise the value of the software and its efficiency and some of the current ideas on working methods surrounding the software could easily have passed them by.

Many at this age and in this position don’t believe they need training, so don’t put themselves forward.  In many cases their work is too integral to operations and managers don’t want to spare them.

Yet, they still have years of work ahead of them. Training them on how to get the best of the latest technologies and working methods will still be an important investment for their employers, harnessing best practice skills to their experience and authority.

So what can employers do to ensure they continue to get the best from the experience and know-how of all their staff – not just the young, up and coming stars? And what can the workers themselves do to ensure they remain of value, continue to be motivated and stay employable until they chose to retire? Or, in today’s volatile world, until they need to compete against younger candidates in the search for a new position?

These individuals may well be highly qualified, but unfortunately, the many changes in standards, examining bodies and even the very skills needed for a job continue to confuse employers.

An increasingly mobile workforce has created the need for more consistent training and a universal global standard to enable employers - who are not necessarily technically-skilled themselves – to assess whether or not a candidate can do the job. Clients putting work out to tender also need a cast-iron way to assess whether a team of contractors includes the right skills mix and will be able to do the job they are bidding for.

As a result, professional training leading to certification of design and engineering IT skills is becoming increasingly important. Certification provides a universal standard to ensure consistency and relevance of skills. An engineer in India, for example, has the same qualification as one in Greece, France or the UK. In this way certification becomes more desirable than national schemes.

It provides also immediate diagnostic feedback, helping candidates to identify areas where they can improve their skills, and performance-based testing using the latest real-life applications.

In a survey of CAD professionals taken by KnowledgePoint at the end of last year, over 70 per cent of CAD professionals believed that IT certification will be required for jobs in the future, or had already been asked to provide it. Well over half (62 per cent) had never taken any software exams before, while 60 per cent felt that certification was important to their career.

Training and certification can also prove valuable for workers who in earlier times may have been approaching retirement. ‘Baby boomers’ currently represent a significant part of the Europe’s workforce but are approaching this stage of their life. Yet the erosion of savings through low interest rates and other factors, the postponement of state pensions and the disappearance of the concept of a ‘job for life’ mean many can no longer afford to retire early. In the EU alone, older workers aged between 55 and 64 are predicted to increase by 24 million by 2030.

The knowledge of this generation shouldn’t be devalued. It was their peers who invented many of the software solutions we know today – as well as the concepts behind the internet itself. They have learnt about new technologies as they have been introduced into the workplace and so understand the background and the reasons behind processes and policies. But they need to continually update their skills nonetheless.

The uptake of training and certification has, so far, increased year on year and it’s believed that the number of older professionals taking advantage will grow as they begin to appreciate the advantages. What better way to show that while experience is a real asset, experience combined with totally updated and current knowledge can give exceptional benefits to both individuals and employers alike?

Kirstin Donoghue is Autodesk Partner Manager EU of KnowledgePoint.