We all know the old saying, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But in the modern workplace, employers don’t have any choice but try. Given the rapid rate of development in workplace technology, and the way it has become integral to virtually every job role, regular IT training is now essential for all workers, young and old.
Training older employees presents some unique challenges for management. The most experienced staff may have worked for the same company for decades and seen lots of managers, IT systems, and a variety of other processes come and go. They represent a wealth of knowledge for your business, their experience is invaluable and that is something you want to keep around.
But how will they react when you try to train them up to use your new cloud computing system, or tell them you are swapping telephones and email for the latest ‘social messaging’ collaboration platform? Will they see the value in it straight away, and jump into learning these new skills and ways of working enthusiastically?
Some will. But many of us are creatures of habit. Change represents disruption, and many people, especially older workers, view the introduction of new technology with another saying in mind – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Plus, you have to remember, if you have staff who entered the workplace 30 or 40 years ago, IT skills were just not part of the job description back then. They have to make much more of an effort to pick up these skills than younger ‘digital natives’ who were born with a computer at their fingertips.
So how do you most effectively train an older employee in new IT skills and avoid encountering pushback when implementing new systems?
The larger a business is, the more likely it is to develop bureaucratic processes. Work for the sake of work is a reality in many workplaces, as is change for the sake of change. Experienced employees will have seen it all before – another bright idea from management which will last about 12 months before it is thrown on the scrap heap, causing only hassle and disruption to them. Why should they get excited about it?
To overcome this hurdle, it is important to demonstrate two things – one, the new system will benefit the business, and two, it will make employees’ lives easier. The first one explains, from the company’s perspective, why the change is happening, that it isn’t just “ticking boxes”. The second is the key incentive to get staff on board – if we train you to use this new tech, your days are going to be much easier.
Get them involved
The best way to demonstrate that a new system will benefit employees is to let them try it out. The more they use it, the more opportunity they have to see its advantages for themselves. Also, since older employees are a great source of knowledge and experience, you can use them as mentors when implementing a new training system. Ask for their opinions, such as what parts of the new training seems right and which look like they might be a hindrance.
By making your older employees feel like they have some control in the decisions, or at least that their input is valued, they will be more willing to bite the bullet when it comes to learning new skills and changing habits themselves.
Look out for genuine issues
Some older employees might be geniuses when it comes to technology. But be prepared that they are more likely to be the ones that really struggle, and have plans in place.
Have patience and don’t assume that the employee knows any prerequisite information, such as Windows hotkeys or how to use Excel. When training, walk through the entire process from start to finish without assuming any prior knowledge. It is often best to take a high-level approach and explain why a certain task is performed the way it is, rather than simply repeating the bare minimum steps that need to be taken to achieve the desired outcome.
Whatever you do, never risk making any employee feel humiliated or unappreciated because they struggle with something. We are all good at different things, and a sure fire way to make sure someone digs their heels in about change is by losing patience with them if they do not pick it up straight away.
Use peer mentors
Pairing people with stronger and weaker skill sets in any area is always a good training tactic. For IT training, if you happen to have older employees with different abilities, pair them up. Those who are less tech literate may take more kindly to advice from someone their own age.
Set reasonable goals and timelines
Expect that training an older employee in IT skills might take a bit longer than the other staff, due to the issues discussed above. Don’t expect them to learn everything in one day, and follow up with them to keep track of their progress and address any issues they may be experiencing.