Call to rethink mindsets about age

As the number of elderly Singaporeans rises and more older workers want to work longer, several MPs yesterday put forward a number of suggestions on how to tap their experience and keep them active.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) said age discrimination should be stopped and older workers ought to be allowed to "work for as long as they can and want".

Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Heng Chee How urged employers to "retune" their thinking and mindsets about what "each age cohort is physically capable of doing as individuals, within corporations and for the country".

"What should be reckoned as 'working-age population' is shifting," said Mr Heng, who is also deputy secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

And failing to recognise this changing reality "is to live in the past, and be guilty not only of mindless ageism and misjudgment, but indeed of wasting national resources to our own detriment", he added.

Companies should therefore tap into the valuable knowledge and experience that a greying workforce had accumulated over their careers, he said. If they did not do so, they would only be inflicting upon themselves "corporate or industry dementia". He said: "If they fail to intelligently tap and hold on to persons with such valuable assets and instead lose them through retirement or short-sighted retrenchments, they lose important institutional memory, knowledge and expertise."

Earlier this week, several MPs also spoke about the well-being of the elderly and ways to ensure Singaporeans remain active in old age.

Yesterday, Ms Tin said that the elderly should be encouraged to continue to contribute and serve the community, and cited how a group of seniors in her constituency are volunteering their time to help other elderly residents.

Greater bonds could also be built between residents and the elderly, said Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC). She proposed developing more inter-generational facilities that can benefit both young and old, such as integrating eldercare centres into schools.

Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) said the Government should not compromise on social support for the "vulnerable" and "disadvantaged". Despite improvements over the years, some residents in need still did not qualify for help, she said, urging agencies to exercise discretion in assessing such cases.

Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) added that those with physical disabilities are still finding it hard to secure employment. "This runs the gamut from the low-skilled disabled who lost the job of cleaning airline headphone sets to technology, to a hearing-impaired university degree-holder who missed (out on) employment opportunities due to the fact that human resources personnel failed to note that the job seeker can respond only to SMS messages and not telephone calls," he said.

More could be done, such as making it a must for companies with over 500 workers to hire staff with disabilities, he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2016, with the headline 'Call to rethink mindsets about age'. Print Edition | Subscribe