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Social Innovation

Getting better with age

How tech can help businesses thrive in a world of ageing populations

As workforces shrink, technology is reporting for duty

Ageing populations

The populations of economically developed countries are getting older as people live longer and fewer babies are born. Globally, life expectancy increased by 5.5 years between 2000 and 2016, while women in developed nations now have on developed nations now have on average 2.4 children. In almost half of countries, including the UK and Japan, the figure is less than 2.

This has created a situation known as an ageing population, where the ratio of elderly to working age people is growing ever higher. An ageing population causes numerous social issues – the working population not only shrinks, as retirees outnumber new workers, but the smaller number of workers also must shoulder the cost burden of caring for people in their old age. The issue is so severe that the UN has identified this as one of the most significant social transformations of the 21st century.

To overcome the issues of an ageing population businesses are turning to technology as a supportive crutch. 

Bridging the generational skills gap

Fewer workers results in a skills gap, as people with specialist skills leave the workforce without replacements. Research by IDC and Gartner, for example, found that the utilities sector is struggling to accommodate the time and effort to train a smaller pool of junior employees in the skills needed to cover for retirements.

To help pass knowledge from generation to generation, Hitachi co-created a bespoke training system with Daikin, a Japanese multinational air conditioning manufacturing company. Using Hitachi’s IoT platform “Lumada",  the training system visualises very complex skills making them much easier for workers to learn. The result has been a faster learning process – Daikin is now attempting to halve its training time.

Technology to teach people about upskilling the human workforce

Another solution for the ageing population is to make the working environment more appealing to older people. Retaining staff past the statutory retirement age not only helps business, who benefit from experienced staff, but also society which benefits from their economic contribution.

So how does a business hold onto people for longer? One of the issues is training. Older people, who often are not digital natives, need to be taught skills that keep their experience relevant and help them remain engaged. Technology itself can help solve the problem.

A report from Business in the Community found that 62% of workers in their 50s had not received any training in computer skills. Often this is because classroom-​style learning is time-consuming and costly for businesses. To address the issue, Skillsoft, an educational technology company, created eLearning solutions that remove the need to send staff out of the office for training. This can reduce costs by as much as 68% over traditional training methods. Using virtual role play, augmented reality and video links, such technological learning solutions are enabling a whole new era of staff training.

Automising to uplift

With fewer workers, the targeted use of automation technology is vital for many sectors of the economy. By using automated technology to complete more mundane tasks, the remaining employees can concentrate on more complex jobs and problem-solving issues. The smaller workforce of the future will be enhanced, not replaced, by machines. Some commentators even predict the model will encourage greater training and team building.

Governments across the world are grappling with ageing populations and the resultant impacts on society. Business has a responsibility to react to these changes, offering technological solutions that help transfer skills, accommodate older people and use automation in a sustainable way.