Businesses and entrepreneurs benefit from experience that comes with age: Panellists

The panel discussion featured (from left) moderator Yvonne Chan; Mr Wilf Blackburn, CEO of Prudential Singapore; Professor Andrew Scott from the London Business School; Dr Carol Tan, medical director of geriatric clinic The Good Life Medical Center; and Mr Jeffrey Tan, director of knowledge, marketing and advocacy at the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre. PHOTO: PRUDENTIAL SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - Insurer Prudential Singapore has received considerably more job applications from people in their 50s and 60s since it scrapped its retirement age last year, said chief executive Wilf Blackburn.

At the same time, there has been some unexpected attrition from people in their 50s who had been expecting to leave at 62, the statutory retirement age.

Mr Blackburn said they decided to just get started on the next phase of their life a bit earlier than they had anticipated.

But overall, ensuring older workers feel that they can continue working at the company makes commercial sense, he added, noting: "We need to become attractive to older workers just as we need to be attractive to younger workers."

Another way the company tries to do this is by allowing vertical job swops for those who want a slower pace. People who lead a department have exchanged roles with those with less responsibility.

"Creating an environment where people feel comfortable doing that and they don't lose physical symbols of status is quite important," added Mr Blackburn, who was speaking during a panel discussion on Tuesday (Nov 12).

Fellow panellist Andrew Scott of the London Business School noted that the wealth of experience older workers have also benefits those who decide to strike out on their own, possibly as a response to ageism in the corporate world.

He said that despite the common perception that people in their 20s embrace going it alone, it is actually those over 55 who are providing the biggest growth in entrepreneurship and with the highest probability of success.

"It's a big threat to some corporates because quite skilled workers who understand better the needs of an ageing consumer base set up their own businesses to service them," Professor Scott.

The panel was held as part of the launch of a paper titled "A Longevity Agenda for Singapore".

This comes as life expectancy at birth here has been increasing at a rate of three years every decade, meaning children born today have the very real potential of a 100-year life, said Prof Scott, who authored the paper. But lifestyles have been built to last 70 years or so.

Mr Blackburn and Prof Scott also suggested that people move away from the idea that formal education must be crammed into the years before 25.

With a longer life, it is less true that someone's whole life depends on what he accomplishes in his teenage years, said Prof Scott. He called for more to be done to provide adult education at scale, so that people have the opportunity to learn all through life.

The other panellists were Dr Carol Tan, medical director of geriatric clinic The Good Life Medical Center, and Mr Jeffrey Tan, the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre's director for knowledge, marketing and advocacy.

Prof Scott and Dr Tan mooted the idea of encouraging Singaporeans to have mid-life audits, which is starting in Britain. It involves people in their 50s thinking through their finances, health, relationships, skills and future plans.

Individual ownership and responsibility are a big part of ageing successfully, said Dr Tan. Rather than "freak out" over the idea of living until 100, people can start looking at changes they can make for themselves, their parents and their children, as well as in their workplace, in order to make the best of the additional years they are going to have.

Mr Tan suggested providing more opportunities for people to continue living fulfilling lives in their older years, such as volunteering or simply getting to know their neighbours. He said: "Ageing is not about hiding in a cave and rotting away. It's about how you go gloriously into the sunset."

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