Can You Really Teach an Old Dog New Tricks?

Two grey-haired men and women look at a laptop. They are discussing the benefits of language training at an older age.

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Who are you calling an old dog?!? 

I’m 54, but my gray hair means I’m often mistaken for someone much older.  I’ve been fighting to stay as fit as possible, but my last Boston marathon was six years ago.  I get asked about retirement more often than my next marathon these days.  But while my competitive running days might be behind me, I’m not going anywhere soon in my professional life.  In fact, sometimes I think I’ve just figured out what I want to do when I grow up.   

Just before Covid, I read an article in the Atlantic  titled “Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think,” by Arthur C. Brooks. At the time, Brooks was fifty-five.  I couldn’t muster much sympathy for a guy whose professional decline was as a professor at Harvard, but his article was a wake-up call for me.  Within a year, I left the company I’d been at for twenty years and found the perfect role at Global LT.   

I’ve been doing a lot of new things to make me better at my job, but among the most rewarding has been language learning.  I’m not fluent in any of my languages, but on my best days at work, I can make small talk with Hungarian colleagues, make lunch at a German Virtual Experience, and follow along with business meetings in French.   

Language learning isn’t the only way that I keep my skills fresh.  Among the best parts of my job is how much I learn from my colleagues about leading a business.  Not every organization supports its older workers similarly, but I’m here to say they should be.  According to a Bain analysis, workers over 55 will exceed 25% of the workforce by 2031, almost double the percentage from twenty years ago.  According to Bain:  

  • More firms need to recognize older workers' changing needs and priorities or invest in integrating older workers into their talent system. 
  • Leading companies focus on recruiting, retaining, reskilling, and respecting the strengths of this group of workers. 

According to The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) research, age-diverse firms perform above industry benchmarks on productivity benchmarks and enjoy lower turnover.  

So, when making your training and development or learning benefits strategy, don’t forget the senior quartile of your workforce.  Programs that attract, upskill, and retain them will pay dividends not just to those workers but to overall performance as well.  And if you want to engage employees who think they’ve seen it all, try offering them the chance to learn and work in a new language and culture.  It’s a challenge that never gets old.   

This blog post was written by Jack Marmorstein, Chief Learning Officer.

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