More can be done to foster a truly age-blind society

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices and The Straits Times recently organised a roundtable ("An age-inclusive workplace"; Nov 4) centred on how older workers could be assets in these challenging economic times.

Older workers are indeed assets for all seasons. In good times, they are an invaluable source of mentorship and wisdom. In tough times, they can be an anchor of stability and competence.

There are currently a number of programmes in place to encourage intergenerational assimilation in the workplace.

For instance, under SkillsFuture, enhanced training subsidies, learning credits and career guidance platforms help our older workers stay relevant by making skills upgrading more accessible.

At the other end, initiatives like WorkPro provide meaningful grants to help employers redesign and transform their workplaces to make better use of their human capital and be more age-friendly.

In between, training providers like the Centre For Seniors (CFS) play a role by preparing older workers to be more job-ready through targeted employability programmes.

However, these programmes alone, as comprehensive as they may be, are insufficient. What is crucial and often missing - and which was rightly identified by the roundtable - is the idea of respect: Respect in how we acknowledge and appreciate the value of older workers. Respect in how we treat them vis-a-vis their younger counterparts. Respect in our willingness to adjust our attitudes, our hiring and remuneration practices, to give them a chance to come in and a chance to excel.

All too often at CFS, we hear our older trainees lamenting that they are put into the same job role with no changes to their work processes and responsibilities, despite all the training and upskilling they have had.

Issues like poor human resource practices and insufficient attention by employers as cited by the roundtable provide further evidence that more can be done to foster a more positive relationship between both sides.

This effort to instil a more inclusive mindset will require conviction and commitment from all parties. The Government and the sector associations must continue to provide funding support for workplace transformation programmes and drive the adoption of best practices.

But employers have to put their older workers front and centre in their staff development conversations, rather than looking to them as an afterthought.

Older workers, too, must continually showcase their value by being accommodative, nimble and relevant. At the end of the day, it is only when both sides respect and recognise the win-win outcome from supporting each other that we can truly move forward towards becoming an age-blind society.

Lim Sia Hoe (Ms)

Executive Director

Centre For Seniors

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2016, with the headline 'More can be done to foster a truly age-blind society'. Print Edition | Subscribe