Ageism

Laws and guidelines should not take the edge and energy off young people

Instead of focusing on how businesses should not discriminate against old people in employment, should the discussion be shifted to address issues like how older people can contribute to the viability of the business, asks the writer. ST PHOTO: KUA C
Instead of focusing on how businesses should not discriminate against old people in employment, should the discussion be shifted to address issues like how older people can contribute to the viability of the business, asks the writer.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

I refer to Professor Tommy Koh's opinion piece, "The global campaign to combat ageism" (April 29).

It would be interesting to find out why businesses sometimes do not employ older Singaporeans.

I am an employer who seeks to ensure my business will survive me. To do so, it must stay relevant, be constantly refreshed, remain competitive and be able to move fast when required.

Succession planning is critical to the long-term continuity of a business. For this, new blood must be injected. And between a young person and an older person, with all things being equal, whom should the business owner select? If he chooses the young person, would he be accused of discriminating against the older candidate?

As society struggles with such difficult questions, I hope that guidelines, mores or even laws do not end up taking the edge and energy off young people.

I hope these questions can be considered:

Instead of focusing on how businesses should not discriminate against old people in employment, should we shift the discussion to address issues like how older people can contribute to the viability of the business?

Why would any sensible business owner (young or old) discriminate against older people who can continue to contribute to the viability of a business?

How can older people give more space to younger workers to progress? Remember, they have young families to bring up.

Will keeping older Singaporeans employed prevent younger Singaporeans from gaining the experience and knowledge necessary to keep a business energised?

How do our older people stay relevant? Older people are less agile (sometimes in both body and mind). Technology is changing the world and the working environment at breakneck speed. Can older people realistically keep up?

Will we be putting more stress on older people to keep up with such changes? What do we do with older Singaporeans who cannot keep up or who do not wish to even take steps to try and stay relevant?

I am not young any more. I hope to stay relevant, but I acknowledge my limitations. For example, I can no longer pull all-nighters at work for a few days on end like I used to in my 30s and early 40s.

Hopefully, my experience will be relevant and useful to my younger colleagues as they bring the business forward. Sometimes, new foundations are needed, and the young will have to be the ones to build them.

May we, the older ones, be wise enough to recognise there are some things that the young can do better than the old. And that we have the courage to accept this and the generosity to cheer the young on to success.

When we can reach this collective understanding, the issue of ageism becomes irrelevant.

Lee Soo Chye

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2021, with the headline 'Laws and guidelines should not take the edge and energy off young people'. Subscribe