Address demand, supply issues to keep older staff employable

An elderly cleaner at a hawker centre.
An elderly cleaner at a hawker centre. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

As one of the fastest-ageing countries in the world, Singapore faces a growing pool of middle-aged and older workers.

The challenge of looking after them is compounded by longer life expectancy, smaller family units and a decreasing total fertility rate.

We would do well to resolve the challenge now and continue to fine-tune the solutions so that we will be better prepared to resolve similar or even potentially worse problems in the future.

While Budget 2016 is long on values and aspirations, it is, however, short on details of how the proposed schemes will be implemented to achieve the desired results ("Helping workers get back in the game"; last Friday).

The schemes should be implemented not just by the Government but also by stakeholders from the public, private, people and political sectors on a multidimensional and multifaceted basis, so as to achieve a more effective and sustainable solution.

For example, to ensure that the extension of re-employment age is effectively implemented, we need to make improvements to the supply and demand side of the employment market.

On the supply side, we must provide incentives to help the elderly workers to improve their attitude, knowledge, skills and their value to employers.

The incentives should help them to, for example, inculcate discipline for self-regulation and personal care, lifelong learning, and improvement of passion, competence and fitness for gainful employment.

By helping elderly workers to work hard and smart, we can help to eradicate contentions that older workers have more medical problems, are accident prone, have a high absenteeism rate and frequent labour turnover.

On the demand side, there should be stronger policies and regulation against age discrimination.

We need to educate employers to believe in the potential of older workers and help them invest in empowering these workers to take on different and even more difficult roles and responsibilities.

The Government can offer targeted incentives to motivate employers to groom older workers and enrich their job scope, including developing flexi-work arrangements.

Subsidies can be provided to employers to develop an environment that is friendly to older workers, and to organise health and wellness programmes for these workers. Such moves will not only strengthen their productive life but will also enhance their performance and contribution.

Patrick Liew Siow Gian (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2016, with the headline 'Address demand, supply issues to keep older staff employable'. Print Edition | Subscribe