Older staff 'baulk at skills-upgrading courses'

Madam Loo failed a Microsoft Excel course earlier this year but does not want to retake it as she finds the course too difficult. Bosses say that while younger workers welcome skills-upgrading courses, older workers feel they will be passed over for
Madam Loo failed a Microsoft Excel course earlier this year but does not want to retake it as she finds the course too difficult. Bosses say that while younger workers welcome skills-upgrading courses, older workers feel they will be passed over for higher-ranking jobs even after training, as many are nearing retirement. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Tests stressful, especially if they have failed before, say bosses

When Marriott Hotel assistant housekeeper Loo Jee Jong, 62, failed a test for a Microsoft Excel course in January, she was reluctant to retake it.

Even though passing could help her get a pay rise, and the hotel was willing to pay $320 for her to attend the two-day course again, she simply refused to take up the offer.

So did two other housekeepers.

"I don't even surf the Internet in my free time. So I found the concepts which were taught too difficult," she said.

"Taking the test also made me nervous and stressed."

Madam Loo's lukewarm response is a common one that employers and unionists get from older workers as they try to implement training programmes to improve productivity.

Many workers in their 50s and 60s, they say, baulk at skills- upgrading courses because of the stress of taking tests and assignments.

While younger workers welcome them because they open door to promotions, older workers feel they will be passed over for higher-ranking jobs even after training, as many are nearing retirement.

Their reluctance reflects the challenges that the Government, employers and unions face as they continue a national push to encourage firms here to hire older workers.

Companies can turn to various funds to send older workers for courses and training, including a $170 million government kitty called WorkPro.

The Government's training body, the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), does not track pass rates of workers who retake courses.

The overall pass rate for WDA courses is 98 per cent.

Getting workers to repeat the courses hits employers in the pocket because the WDA does not provide subsidies a second time. Subsidies for first-time training are up to 90 per cent.

Firms say they are willing to foot the bill for workers to repeat the courses, but their offers have fallen on deaf ears.

The aversion of many older workers to tests is so strong that once they fail, they are adamant about not going for a second try, they find.

Madam Loo's boss, executive housekeeper Judy Tan, said of older workers: "When they fail, their confidence dips even more."

Mr Milton Ng, president of the Environmental Management Association of Singapore, which represents cleaning companies, said training workers to use advanced machinery and efficient work processes helps firms save money and can lead to higher staff pay.

But many older workers are not motivated by pay rises.

Mr Ng, who is also the director of Ramky Cleantech Services, said: "Many older workers are happy having a stable job and going home on time to be with their families."

Employers and union leaders believe senior workers can be convinced to go for training if courses involve fewer tests and assignments.

Madam Loo, who attended a three-month housekeeping supervisory course three years ago, said she had to stay up late frequently to complete the homework.

"The assignments should be completed during lesson time," she said. "Many of us need to do housework and do not have much time for homework."

National Transport Workers' Union president Rosmani Juraini suggested that the WDA assess workers on their daily work performance rather than exam results.

Part-time waitress Ng Lee Eng, 55, who attended a three-month English course earlier this year but failed, agreed that being able to apply what has been taught in the classroom to tasks at work is more important than scoring well in exams.

"I am more confident when I speak in English to customers now. It shows that I've learnt something."

ameltan@sph.com.sg