I would like to thank the Commission for this opportunity to discuss issues around stereotypes of older workers, particularly around older workers and new technologies. I am a Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Director of the Center on Aging at the University of Miami School of Medicine. I also hold joint appointments in Industrial Engineering, Psychology and Neurology. In addition I am the Director of the Center for Research and Education on Aging and Technology Enhancement, also know as CREATE.
I would like to start by briefly describing CREATE, which is a multi-site Center that has been funded since 1999 by the National Institute on Aging. CREATE involves researchers at the University of Miami, Florida State University, Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois. The focus of CREATE is on older adults' interactions with technology systems in healthcare, home, and work settings. Our goal is to ensure that technology is both usable by and useful to older adults and that older adults can realize the benefits of technology. Thus, we have gathered and published extensive data on the willingness and ability of older people to use technology including workplace technologies. We also have examined issues related to training older adults and have written extensively on these topics including handbooks on design for older adults.
To provide some context for the remainder of my remarks I would like to review briefly the significant demographic and social changes that are shaping todays and tomorrow's workplace. One is that the workforce is aging. According to recent data from the U.S. Census, by 2050 about 19% of the workforce will be aged 65 or older - a 75 percent growth of the number of workers in this age group as compared to a 2 percent growth in individuals aged 25 -54 years. As the diversity of the U.S. population increases, the entire workforce, including older workers, is also becoming more diverse. Projections from the U.S. Census data indicate that in the U.S. the minority population is expected to increase to 56 percent by 2060. There will also be growth in older adults from minority groups, especially in the Hispanic population. Further, patterns of work and retirement are changing. It is no longer a "lock step process" - most workers making many more transitions throughout their working life and moving in and out of different work experiences.
At the same time that the workforce is aging and becoming more diverse, there are also dramatic changes in work structures and organizations, which include decentralized management structures, collaborative work arrangements and teamwork, and a greater emphasis on knowledge-based work and jobs that require advanced degrees or training. Technology is also becoming ubiquitous within work environments and the influx of technology is reshaping work processes, the content of jobs, where work is performed, and training strategies. Today, most workers use some form of technology and this trend will continue and technology will continue to change and in many cases become more sophisticated. These changes in the workplace have tremendous implications for workers, employers and organizations. On the worker side, these changes imply that workers of all ages will have to learn new skills continually and adapt to changes in job demands. Organizations and employers will need to develop strategies to accommodate older workers and to ensure that workers of all ages are provided with opportunities to update their skills to keep pace with changes in work technologies and job demands. This requires having a knowledge base about older workers and aging and work.
Unfortunately numerous negative stereotypes about older workers still exist that often prevent or have a negative impact on employment opportunities for older people. These stereotypes can also prevent organizations from realizing the wealth of positive assets, such as wisdom, experience, and reliability that older workers can bring to the table.
Common myths about older workers include the belief that all older people are alike, tend to be sick, and have higher rates of absenteeism. Older workers are also thought to be less productive than younger workers and less flexible or willing to adapt to changes in the workplace. In addition, older people are thought to be technophobic and unwilling or unable to learn to use new technologies. Further, it is often thought that they are less willing to participate in training programs and more costly to train.
These myths are largely unsubstantiated by findings from our research and that of others.
Maximizing the potential of older workers and their contribution to the workforce will require strategies to accommodate the skills, abilities and preferences. One important issue is of course recognizing the value of older workers and striving to match their skills and abilities with the demands of jobs and work environments. This requires both a workforce and workplace assessment to understand needs in worker skills and potential changes in jobs or the work environment to accommodate older people. These changes might include:
With respect to training, technology is also influencing how training is conducted and there is currently a large emphasis on "e-learning" or technology-mediated learning. There is also an increased emphasis on workers assuming responsibility for continuous learning. This also places an emphasis on online training arrangements. This is an area ripe for research as the implications for older workers is not well understood.
Overall, addressing usability barriers for technology adoption, including attitudinal, social/institutional, and physical, is central to encouraging and enabling older workers to prolong productive and satisfying labor force participation. In addition, training support must be available and designed to accommodate older adults. If technology is designed properly and accompanied by appropriate training it can improve the health, safety, productivity, and longevity of an aging workforce.