03 June, 2021

Deep Dive on Digital Upskilling Best Practices to increase the employability of the ageing workforce in the Telecom sector

The social partners from the EU telecom sector, ETNO and UNI Europa, organised a virtual round table conference titled Deep Dive on Digital UpskillingBest Practices to increase the employability of the ageing workforce in the Telecom sector. The event was held on 3 June 2021.

This was the second round table focused on digital upskilling as part of a joint ETNO-UNI Europa social dialogue Project funded with the financial support of the European Commission. 41 representatives from 22 companies/organisations participated in the full day event. The meeting was translated simultaneously from English into 4 languages (French, Italian,  Polish and Spanish) by Olyusei. Mercer Consulting helped in the preparation and facilitation of the meeting.

The aim of the round table was to discuss the best practices identified so far during the project, to increase the employability of the aging workforce in the European telecom sector and to facilitate a discussion around ageism in the workplace.

In Europe, 44% of people believe ageism is a serious problem, compared with 64% in the UK as a whole.[1] Digital upskilling can help the ageing workforce employability and also will help the companies to stay competitive. “The 100-Year Life”, Professors Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott cited survey results showing that almost 60% of workers aged 45 and older were investing in new skills for work. [2]

Oliver Röthig, Regional Secretary, UNI Europa, kicked off the full day digital event started at 9.15 CET with an introduction and welcome remarks. He highlighted the continued need to upskill the ageing workforce giving the fast rate of change and acceleration of digital technology, especially in light of Covid-19. He stressed the critical role social partners should play in this process given their proximity to the workers and understanding of their skills.

This was followed by a presentation from Yvonne Sonsino from Mercer, author of Next stage are you age-ready? | Mercer 2019, who provided an overview of Ageism vs. Ableism, discussion of ageism in the workplace as well as strategies to address Ageism. She then addressed the upskilling needs of this employee segment, looking at the evolution of skills, again stressing that multiple stakeholders need to work together on this priority.

Yvonne encouraged companies to support their ageing workforce by addressing:

  • Flexibility: allowing for flexible work and phased retirement
  • Skills set: prioritising older skills in hiring and promoting talent
  • Job roles: creating new positions or adapting older ones, allowing for new employment models
  • Ergonomics: changing workplace ergonomics to support all ages

A group poll asked participants what their companies were doing to accelerate skill development. The results highlighted that 72% of participants were exploring ways to develop talent based on skills, while 67% reported that they were identifying new skills and capabilities needed for post-COVID-19 operations. 

Yvonne concluded by sharing a case study from Johnson & Johnson. The company was able to cluster the ageing workforce into two groups based on preferences. One group was looking for more flexibility and better work life balance, while the other group was looking to continue to develop in order to have meaningful work experiences. Their program was put in place by building a business case looking at the changing skills, environment, labor market, regulation and demographics. It also addressed stereotypes and ageism bias for the over 55+ population. Design thinking was used to create opportunities for the “develop” segment.   Groups were asked to solve real Johnson & Johnson challenges to improve business performance and develop themselves as a way to develop skills and improve networks.

The round table then progressed to examine the best practices identified for the Digital Upskilling to support the employability of the ageing workforce. Presentations were made by:

  • Javier Miranda representing DigitalES, who presented an upskilling program designed for ICT supporting the professional qualifications requirements and 5G specialisation
  • Andrea Rubera from TIM, who shared an overview of the Longevity Program developed to support the ongoing skills development of its aging workforce
  • Annita Fjuk, explaining Digital Norway’s approach to upskilling for the Digidel program at the Norwegian Ministry of Modernisation
  • Alessandro Cortesi who presented best practices and case study examples of implementing Reverse Mentoring as a way to support age diversity and upskilling

A video recording of the presentations can be found on the ETNO website at this link

Digitales in particular stressed the importance of lifelong learning with new technology, such as 5G. Their organization noticed a gap in the market related to this particular technology and using public-private partnership were able to develop a specific professional training supporting employability of all generations.

TIM developed its Longevity program in response to Italy’s change in retirement age and the company’s workforce demographics (40% are baby boomers and 55% belong to the Generation X). The company had the business need to keep employees engaged and motivated to continue their careers, as well as the need to boost technology skills, bringing digital and agile skills to the company. Starting with a process to identify required skills and skill gaps, specific courses and specific training were developed for employee segments. In addition, the program addressed wellbeing for the employees to increase and improve engagement.

Digital Norway also stressed the importance of lifelong learning. In order for organisations to have success, changes in culture are required starting with the company leadership. Programs also need to consider how adults prefer to learn in a respectful and interactive manner. When building a learning journey, she suggested to organisations to:

  • Find a partner, such as academic institutions to support continuous learning
  • Keep courses simple, relevant and focussed on materials which can immediately be used
  • Build awareness with short course

An effective approach to exchange skills, knowledge and understanding across generations is Reverse Mentoring, and Mercer presented some best practice tips in the afternoon session, including :

  • How to choose the right Mentors and Mentees
  • What to consider when designing the mentoring path
  • KPIs for measuring mentoring effectiveness

Upon the completion of the Best Practice discussion, Mercer facilitated an online diagnostic survey about Redefining Retirement examining how prepared participant companies are positioned to address the changing workforce demographics and increasing longevity of workers looking at areas such as supported flexibility, organizational profile, financial resilience and employee wellbeing. These themes help organisations to maximize the return of upskilling the ageing workforce by ensuring these employees are able to contribute in an effective and engaged manner. It also shows the importance for the industry to continue to support and provide guidance for career and skill development for employees in later life.


Grégory Gillet from ETNO closed the conference thanking the round table organisers, participants and speakers for their participation.  He summarised some of the main learnings points of the day:

  • Focus on life-long learning journey
  • Importance of collaborating with social partners, including in the design of upskilling programs
  • Importance of agility and creativity when designing programs
  • Focus on training to new technologies
  • Legal constraints can drive organizations to review learning programs
  • Holistic programs include short burst of activity as well as longer courses
  • Reverse mentoring creates a win-win situation encouraging interactions across generations

“We tried to twist the neck to 3 recurrent bias regarding ageing workforces. They don't decrease in productivity, don't have difficulty to learn new skills and technologies and don't have higher economic costs”, stated Grégory Gillet.

The next steps for the DUFA! Project include the final conference in 2022, bringing together the best practices from both round tables. More information about the project, including video highlights from the first round table can be found on the ETNO website at this link).

In conclusion, the organisers would like to give a special thanks to the following for their contribution and participation in this event:

  • European Commission
  • ETNO / UNI Europa – European Social partners & experts
  • Mercer Consulting
  • The interpretation team & technical team of Olyusei

The next steps for the DUFA! Project include the next round table conference on June 3rd focusing on Age Diversity and a final conference closing out the two year project in fall of 2021. More information about the project, including video highlights from the first round table can be found on the ETNO website at this link.

In conclusion, we would like to give a special thanks to all involved for their contribution.

With the financial support of the European Commission. 


[1] European Social Survey on Ageism

[2] Gratton L, Scott A. The 100-Year Life (Bloomsbury Information Ltd), June 2, 2016

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