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The first megatrend: a shrinking and ageing workforce. As the European workforce shrinks, ways of tapping its full potential must be found. Increasing migration is another aspect of demographic change. The result will be greater cultural and ethnic diversity, among customers as well as in the workforce. In view of this increasing diversity and the development of an international corporate culture, demands on employees will continue to change, with skills such as foreign language ability and intercultural competence becoming increasingly important.

The second megatrend: the development of a global knowledge society. Market-driven changes and evolving customer requirements are exerting steady pressure on companies to change and realign their organisations, their processes and their competences. “Knowledge” has become the decisive factor that will determine our society’s ability to meet the challenges of the future. The volume of available knowledge is multiplying ever more rapidly, while existing knowledge becomes obsolete ever more quickly. Learning how to access available knowledge is becoming ever more important. The demands placed on individuals to be flexible and adaptable are growing exponentially. In this context, low-skilled work will come under increasing pressure. Knowledge intensification will place growing and recurrent educational demands on European workers. At the same time, competition for skilled workers and management staff across all sectors will increase significantly. In Germany, in contrast, 8.3% of school leavers leave general education without a qualification. The percentage of poorly qualified youngsters in Germany has risen from 10% in the early 1990s to 15% today – contrary to the OECD trend in Europe. Pessimistic estimates forecast that up to 25% of 15-year-olds in education will not be suitable for vocational training. Around 240,000 of those in apprenticeships, or around 23%, abandon their studies and do not achieve a qualification, up around 75% on ten years ago. The cost of upskilling measures for those who have dropped out of school and those with low qualifications is estimated at €7 billion for 2004 alone. Social transfer costs, often payable for a lifetime, come on top of this.

[edit] Skills risks facing older employees

Low rates of participation in CET stand in sharp contrast to the risks that older employees are exposed to in relation to their skills. Very generally, there are four types of risk (Naegele 1992)

  • deskilling risk,
  • narrowing of skills to an individual company,
  • differences in skills levels between generations,
  • age-related performance changes.

Deskilling associated with the introduction of new technologies and organisational concepts is the central skills-related risk facing older employees. It results from demands for new skills that older workers cannot (yet) offer, either because their academic education or vocational training did not cover them, or because they require new kinds of vocational knowledge requiring significant CET to acquire.

Narrowing of skills to a particular company results from a focus over the course of decades on specific procedures, fields of work or processes and can lead to significant erosion of an employee’s original skills.

Intergenerational skills gaps result from the fact that each new age cohort possesses a higher level of basic qualifications than the previous one. For example, in 1992, 17% of 35- to 45 year-olds in employment had a degree, compared with just 12% of those aged 45 and over (Parmentier et al. 1993). In relation to the cognitive performance of older employees, the performance change thesis refers to a shift in cognitive characteristics typical of increasing age. For example, research into the psychology of ageing has shown that absorption and processing of information slows and mental agility and ability to adapt decrease with age. On the other hand, however, experience increases and judgement improves, and the capacity to learn remains unchanged (for a summary see Naegele 1992).

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