The baby boomer generation is defined as those born between 1946 and 1964. Until recently, it was anticipated that there would begin a mass exodus out of the workplace as the oldest of the boomers reached retirement age in 2011. Current financial trends have impacted the number of boomers who are able to retire and most plan to work past age 65. The job market is also seeing a move from part-time work for older workers to full-time. "Between 1995 and 2007, the number of older workers on full-time work schedules nearly doubled while the number working part-time rose just 19 percent. As a result, full-timers now account for a majority among older workers: 56 percent in 2007, up from 44 percent in 1995" (BLS, 2008, p. 1).

The trend for aging workers will continue. Not only do the baby boomers represent the largest working cohort in the United States, there is also a rise in workers over 65. "The number of workers between the ages of 65 and 74 and those aged 75 and up are predicted to soar by more than 80 percent" (BLS, 2008, p. 1). According the analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2008), "between 1977 and 2007, employment of workers 65 and over increased 101 percent, compared to a much smaller increase of 59 percent for total employment (16 and over). The number of employed men 65 and over rose 75 percent, but employment of women 65 and older increased by nearly twice as much, climbing 147 percent. While the number of employed people age 75 and over is relatively small (0.8 percent of the employed in 2007), this group had the most dramatic gain, increasing 172 percent between 1977 and 2007."

The implications are clear for those involved with safety training. Training must be responsive to older workers and how they learn best. Older people experience changes in cognition that affect their abilities to learn and perform tasks. Cognitive ergonomics fits their cognitive abilities to the task.

Adult Learning Theory

Safety trainers are exposed to principles of adult learning either through academics, publications, or conferences (Jackson, 2006). Adult learning theory, also known as andragogy, purports that adults learn differently than children. Briefly, the six key principles of adult learning theory are:

  1. The need to know why they need to learn something.

  2. Their self concept which includes self-responsibility and decision-making rather than having decisions imposed on them.

  3. Value of their life experiences within the framework of learning

  4. A readiness to learn based on what they need to know in real-life circumstances.

  5. An orientation to learning that is task or problem centered rather than subject centered.

  6. Adults are more internally motivated to learn something.

These learning principles apply to adult learners. However, there are unique changes that occur in the brain that make learning different for the older worker. Understanding those changes will improve safety training.

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