Why there is no ‘expiry age’ on learning

By Karen Gately


In 1970 there were five people of working age supporting each Australian over 65. If forecasts are accurate, this will fall to just 2.7 by 2050. This dramatic change in demographics presents both opportunity and risk. With fewer people in the workforce, skills shortages are likely to affect many industries. But with a higher average age in the workforce comes depth of experience employers are wise to leverage.


Despite the growing need to attract and retain mature workers, they remain underrepresented in the workforce and overrepresented in the joblessness rate. Unfounded assumptions such as ‘older people are stuck in their ways and don’t want to learn’ stand in the way of fair assessment and equal opportunity.


All too often people are confronted in the workplace with limiting beliefs and unconscious bias regarding their age. Some employers, for example, inaccurately assume that with youth comes stronger desire to learn and ability to adapt in a dynamic world. Sometimes, however, people are their own worst enemy, undermining their own success with a pessimistic view of their ability to learn.


The truth is that old dogs can definitely learn new tricks, and typically need to. The ability to learn has less to do with age, and far more to do with desire. Of course, with age typically comes a decline in cognitive abilities that are important for learning new skills. But with interest, focus and patience, many of these barriers can be overcome.


So why does it matter that we keep learning? Here are four reasons to reflect on.


  1. Achieve your objectives

Whether you want to advance further in your career, change direction all together or simply ensure greater job security, continuing to learn is essential. Keeping pace with the demands of your role, profession or your industry requires that you take deliberate steps to learn the skills and gain the experience needed not only today, but also into the future.


  1. Maintain purpose<subhead>

The strength of our spirit is typically influenced by the extent to which we find purpose and meaning in our work. It’s common for people to change career paths multiple times in their lives. Taking those steps successfully always means learning more.


  1. Keep giving

Many people choose to continue to contribute to their profession or community well beyond retirement; whether that be, for example, through volunteer work or mentoring. Continuing to learn is important to our ability to play these roles well and gain a sense of achievement through the experience.



  1. Be energised and maintain engagement

Learning about mastering topics or roles we enjoy unquestionably influences the strength of our spirit. Developing skills needed for your current role matters, but so too does investing in areas you enjoy. Lack of iinterest is unquestionably among the biggest obstacles to learning. Any parent of a teenager is likely to understand that!


With age can come a more fixed mind-set or approach. Reflect for a moment on the extent to which you have become ‘stuck in your ways’. Sometimes experience tells us that certain decisions are best, but when we close our minds to new insights or ideas we stop learning. Maintaining a desire to grow and choosing to have an open mind are key to learning at any age.


While challenging our beliefs and assumptions is essential, the wisdom we gain through experience is invaluable not only to ourselves, but also to the people we work with. When we reflect on the past and share our lessons learned, the whole team benefits.

Karen Gately is a leadership and people-management specialist and a founder of Ryan Gately. Karen works with leaders and HR teams to drive business results through the talent and energy of people. She is the author of The People Manager’s Toolkit: A Practical Guide to Getting the Best from People (Wiley) and The Corporate Dojo: Driving Extraordinary Results Through Spirited People. To find out more, visit www.karengately.com.au or email [email protected]