Ensuring jobs for young and old a tough balance

Office workers in the CBD.
Office workers in the CBD.PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Mr Geoffrey Kung made a valid observation that more needs to be done to identify new vocations better suited to mature workers, instead of engaging in the uphill task of urging employers to hire or retain older staff ("Be creative to get the most out of older workers"; Oct 26).

Having spent decades in the corporate world, I can safely say that management is rarely, if ever, swayed by ethical convictions when it comes to hiring or retaining older staff.

The shorter cycles between economic growth and downturn are limiting new opportunities for employment, as companies focus less on expansion and more on cost management.

Over the past two decades, professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) have been entering the workforce later, owing to the pursuit of a university education and postgraduate qualifications.

Unfortunately, many younger would-be employees are not deferring a career by choice; they are struggling to get a foot in the door.

With fewer white-collar jobs opening up to replace those of retiring employees, career opportunities for both fresh graduates and displaced middle-aged professionals are restricted.

Delayed retirement or re-employment impedes opportunities for not only the young, but also for the tens of thousands of laid-off PMEs in their 40s and 50s.

Recent trends of employees remaining longer in the workplace are driven by both job dynamics and adverse economic conditions. While some seniors prefer to remain active, most are prompted by caution to work longer, in order to save for their retirement, or simply because of the high cost of living.

Most current white-collar work is knowledge- or technology-based. Thus, employees are theoretically able to continue their careers well into their 60s and even 70s.

However, many employers believe that it is tougher for older workers to acquire new skills, and would rather invest in training and development programmes for younger staff.

Companies may even see the displacement of mature workers as providing opportunities, removing obstacles to gainful employment and helping young adults join the middle class and contribute to the economy as productive workers and taxpayers.

Employers may also believe that they are assisting retrenched PMEs to service their housing loans, fund their children's education and save for retirement by hiring them instead of retirees.

Discriminatory practices against older workers are often seen as a necessary evil to resolve the growing problem of unemployment and underemployment of younger Singaporean degree holders.

Edmund Khoo Kim Hock

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2015, with the headline 'Ensuring jobs for young and old a tough balance'. Print Edition | Subscribe