Lifelong Learning after 50. Jobs within reach of microcredentials

Poland’s record-low registered unemployment rate, 5.1% in April 2024, places it among the top EU countries with the lowest number of unemployed people. Meanwhile, as many as 77% of European employers struggle to find employees with the right skills.

50+ overlooked?

The market for specialists has shrunk dramatically. Is this an opportunity for 50+ employees, who increasingly indicate that employers overlook them? Yes, but under certain conditions. At a time when the labour market is undergoing dynamic changes due to its digitalisation and automation, involvement in the implementation of lifelong learning has become a necessity.

The year 2023 was the European Year of Skills. During this time, UE promoted activities related to up-skilling by working people. The event was in response to the need for skills in demand in EU labour markets, thereby increasing the opportunities for job seekers.

It is also crucial for achieving the social objectives that the EU wants to achieve by 2030. They assume that, according to the lifelong learning policy, by 2030, at least 60% of the adult population of Europe will be in training each year, and 78% will be in the labour force.

The labour market is ageing with us

A characteristic of global labour markets, including Poland, is the progressive ageing of the population. The share of the elderly population in the total labour force is steadily increasing. Combined with a lower birth rate, this leads to a declining number of young candidates in the labour market.

Poland has faced a low birth rate for several generations. At the same time, medical advances and improvements in living conditions have contributed to an increase in life expectancy.

The Central Statistical Office reports that in 1980, real growth in our country was 0.9%. People over the age of 65 accounted for 10% of our population.

In 2022, growth dropped to negative -0.4% and the number of people over 65 rose to 19.5%.

Stereotypes and unemployment hit 50+

It has become natural for employers to reach for specialists from different generations, including older ones. However, a stereotype has been associated with the 50+ generation, which says that older workers may have difficulty adapting to modern digital technologies, have poor language skills and do not do well in young teams, in which, because of their experience, they try to dominate. It can affect the organisation’s efficiency.

This stereotype continues to be reinforced by the latest data from the Central Statistical Office (CSO). They show that despite the low registered unemployment rate of 5.1% in April 2024, out of 797,000 unemployed people, as many as 209,000 are over 50 (26.3%). In comparison, 190 thousand (23.8%) of those under 30 have registered as unemployed.

Labour market experts point to the need for businesses to re-evaluate 50+ employees. They list many benefits of hiring specialists from the 50+ generation. Above all, they highlight their extensive professional experience and the developed skills they have acquired over the years.

Older employees also often show greater loyalty to their employer. They change jobs less frequently. It means lower costs for recruiting and training new employees and more stability within the company.

According to experts, 50+ employees can also act as mentors for younger colleagues, passing on their knowledge and experience.

And most importantly. Despite common stereotypes, older employees are often open to learning new technologies and work methods. Their flexibility and willingness to adapt can be a great advantage in a rapidly changing business environment.

Lifelong learning – help yourself

However, it is crucial to remember that the lifelong learning idea is only beginning to gain traction among people aged 50+.

Representatives of this generation are “learning” the expectations of employers. The European Commission stresses that 77% of companies in the European Union have difficulty finding employees with the necessary skills. There is a shortage of specialists in IT, data analytics, sales and marketing. Specialisations closely related to digitalisation and automation, with artificial intelligence (AI) playing an increasingly important role.

A new light on these conditions sheds interim study ‘Adult Education 2022’ published by the CSO. It turns out that only 12.5 per cent of people aged 50-69 have used various forms of non-formal education (organised forms of learning outside the education system) in 2022. The ‘informal acquisition of knowledge’ by this population (informal, i.e. outside of organised forms of education) fared slightly better. This form of education is training by 34.8% of people aged 50+.

The study ‘Learning of Poles in Adulthood’ conducted by the Educational Research Institute confirms this. Among those who do not participate in non-formal education, the largest group are those in the oldest age group of 55-65.

More than one in three people who do not engage in educational activities belong to this group (37%).

When asked about their reasons for not participating in educational programs, people in the 45-54 and 55-65 age groups most often answered that:

“have not considered participating in such programs” (34% and 36%, respectively). Interestingly, about one in four people in these groups said that non-formal education wouldn’t be helpful to them in their work, and one in five themselves felt that the knowledge and skills they have are sufficient for their current situation.

Digital skills – to be completed

It turns out that they are not quite enough.

Eurostat’s latest report, “Digitalization in Europe – 2024 edition,” presents data on the basic digital skills of European residents. In Poland, only 44.3% of people have them.

In statistics, we are only ahead of Romania (27.7%) and Bulgaria (35.5%). Leading the way, with an EU-wide average of 56%, are Netherlands (83%), Finland (82%), Ireland (73%), Denmark (70%) and the Czech Republic (69%).

Meanwhile, as Educational Research Institute researchers point out, lifelong learning – a global trend – provides opportunities for all workers from all backgrounds and all ages.

In developing their competencies and interests, adults are eager to use various types of more or less formalised courses, materials, tutorials, and inspiration they find on social networks and hobby sites. They also use educational applications for mobile devices. Such activity influences the development of digital competence.

Skills acquired informally are increasingly determining whether the holder will stand out from other candidates when recruiting for a position. However, to use them as an asset, he must first confirm them with, for example, a credible certificate. For this, a micro-certification is useful.”Microcredentials are not only a hope for education, but also an opportunity for all participants in the labour market, with different experiences and of all ages. An increasingly fast-changing world requires constant upgrading of skills. The validation of various skills, even small ones, has been evident in Europe for several years, precisely in microcredentials. At the Educational Research Institute, we are developing standards for microcertifications. We have also created the first application in Poland for issuing, collecting, storing and sharing microcredentials and digital badges, Odznaka+ – sums up Michał Nowakowski, leader of the project “Microcredentials – piloting a new solution to support lifelong learning,” which is financed by the European Funds for Social Development (FERS).