Ways to engage, raise standards of older workers

Singapore is one of the fastest ageing countries in the world, and the challenge of looking after the elderly here is further compounded by the fact that our family units are getting smaller and our total fertility rate is on the decline.

This challenge will become more pronounced and there will be more diverse, complex and even unpredictable issues in the near future.

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

This is a challenge that should be resolved not just by the Government, but also by stakeholders from the public, private, people, and political sectors.

For example, in a tight labour market coupled with a longer life expectancy, employers will have their fair share of older workers.

We need to help employers improve their outlook on the role, competence and contributions of older workers ("Ageism 'more common' than sexism or racism" and "Don't write off everyone over 65 as unproductive"; both published on Oct 1).

Research has shown that the age of workers does not affect job performance. Older workers can have a higher level of loyalty, positive experience and dependability.

On the other hand, there are concerns from employers about the relevance of older workers' knowledge and skills, their lack of creativity and their resistance to change.

To overcome these potential downsides, employers can demonstrate more care for older workers and engage them in collaborative learning and improvement.

By deepening their commitment to and support for such workers, employers can unleash their creative and innovative potential and contributions.

The Government can offer targeted incentives to motivate employers to groom older workers and enrich their job scope, including the development of flexi-work arrangements. Subsidies can be provided to employers to develop an elder-friendly environment and to organise health and wellness programmes for them.

As one united people, we can do more to improve the attitude, knowledge and skills of our older workers. It will not only enhance their employability, but also help them enjoy greater pride, dignity and fulfilment in their sunset years.

Patrick Liew Siow Gian (Dr)