Budget 2020 Roundtable: Do more to change employers' mindsets on older workers

Continual upskilling will be needed for Singapore's greying workforce to stay competitive, and some measures announced in the Budget will help, experts at a recent roundtable said.

Labour MP Patrick Tay said he was glad to see measures such as grants to encourage companies to adopt higher retirement and re-employment ages ahead of legislative change.

And a special $500 SkillsFuture credit top-up for older workers will help those in their 40s and 50s with mid-career transitions, he added.

But incentives from the Government alone are not enough to combat ageism, he noted, adding that mindset shifts in society and within companies will also be needed.

He said some companies are beginning to recognise this in view of Singapore's tight labour market and shrinking workforce. "Leveraging technology and redesigning jobs can help to make the workplace more age-friendly," Mr Tay said.

But companies still need to do more to change perceptions that older workers are less productive, Singapore Business Federation (SBF) chief executive Ho Meng Kit said at last week's roundtable session.

Economics associate professor Walter Theseira said some companies have very young age profiles, while others find it hard to hire younger workers. "It's a problem not just in Singapore, but also in the West. In Silicon Valley, for example, you hardly find any grey-haired engineers."

But United Overseas Bank senior economist Alvin Liew said it may not be feasible to expect sectors like the tech industry to have older workers reskilled and retrained. He suggested that older workers could transition into sectors that are becoming increasingly important in an ageing society, such as caregiving and social service.

"You have to make the skills available for people to adapt and train to go into these sectors.

"And it seems, at least to me, more viable than to try to convince a 40-to 60-year-old person to become a coder," he said.

Moderator Vikram Khanna noted that Singapore is not alone in facing the challenge of accommodating older workers.

"Much of East Asia - China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan - all of these countries are facing the same problems," he said.

Mr Ho said businesses in Japan have brought jobs like childcare, urban farming and recycling to older people, and suggested that firms here do something similar within Housing Board precincts.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 23, 2020, with the headline Budget 2020 Roundtable: Do more to change employers' mindsets on older workers. Subscribe