Prepare youth for longer working life

Office workers cross a street during lunch hour at the central business district in Singapore on April 27.
Office workers cross a street during lunch hour at the central business district in Singapore on April 27.PHOTO: REUTERS

Governments around the world are struggling to support growing numbers of retired people, who depend on a shrinking working population.

This may mean people will have to be prepared for a longer working life.

But if people have to work longer, it is unclear if their education or workplace is geared to support such a move.

How can we prepare our young people for longer working lives?

Tertiary institutions must gear students to think about career aspirations for a much longer working life.

Perhaps degree courses could be broken up into shorter and more self-contained modules that students can combine or sequence in an order that makes the most sense for their career aspirations.

Such an arrangement could allow for breaks or changes in one's career plans, given the much longer trajectory now anticipated.

Breaking up the course also allows young people to take a break from their studies and work to pay the fees, given that a university education is getting increasingly expensive.

Students can then return and pick up from where they left off.

The Government could also offer loans that could be partially repaid in the form of services, such as tutoring younger students.

Our young people must think more strategically about their future. And we need to provide more and better quality information about different career paths and motivations, to sustain a longer working life.

Education providers should focus more on what happens to students after they leave school, by tracking graduates' employment and job satisfaction.

Employers must also work closely with education providers to design curricula that fit business needs. They can even provide trainers to participate in teaching, or set up training academies.

At the same time, supporting structures must be built so that these efforts can be scaled up to the national level. A system integrator could gather and share information, job forecasts by profession, youth job-placement rates and employer satisfaction.

Francis Cheng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2016, with the headline 'Prepare youth for longer working life'. Print Edition | Subscribe