Job hunt much tougher for older workers

Those in their 50s and 60s take six months to get hired and face pay cuts of 20% or more, say experts

Older workers in Singapore face age discrimination, which often means they have to spend more time trying to land a job, and take significant pay cuts.

Labour experts told The Sunday Times that professionals in their 50s and 60s take about six months on average to get hired. 

In contrast, their younger counterparts spend one to two months finding employment. 

Often, older professionals have to take pay cuts of 20 per cent or more when they start a new job.

Recruitment agency heads said this could be because they had been drawing salaries above the market rate in their previous organisations, due to their seniority.

“Their salaries would be adjusted to market rates in their new company or sometimes they are taking jobs at a lower level and their pay would be reduced too,” said Mr Josh Goh, assistant director for corporate services of recruitment company The GMP Group.

The issue of older workers facing difficulty getting hired was raised by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in Parliament last Thursday.

He said “an element of age discrimination” affects older professionals, who find it hard to get new jobs when they lose their old ones.

Low-wage workers can also be discriminated against as they may have little education and bargaining power.

Mr Goh said older blue-collar workers in sectors such as food and beverage and retail can land jobs relatively easily and are paid salaries comparable to that of their younger colleagues.

This is because of the labour crunch in these sectors.

But Mr Goh said these older workers face problems staying on in the jobs because of the physically taxing nature of the work. At times, employers are not enlightened or patient enough to coach them to get them up to speed.

Last month, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said in a written reply to a parliamentary question that age-related discrimination complaints have been lodged from time to time with the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (Tafep).

But he also pointed out that the overall employability of older workers has improved in the last decade.

He said Tafep received 151 age-related discrimination complaints in the past three years. 

And the employment rate of residents aged 55 to 64 rose from 45.2 per cent in 2003 to 64 per cent last year. 

Mr Tan said measures to improve the employability of older workers, such as the introduction of re-employment legislation, have helped them land jobs.

However, National Trades Union Congress deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How said employers can do more to retain their older workers. 

He suggested that companies introduce wellness programmes that keep their employees healthy or redesign jobs to suit the needs of older workers.

“It is not easy to look for a job in your 60s,” said Mr Heng. 

“Rather, employers should look at keeping these workers and make sure they are productive. 

“Companies can benefit too, since the workers are experienced.”

Older job seekers who spoke to The Sunday Times said their job search is an arduous and demoralising process.

Master’s degree holder Justin Ma, 62, said he has been looking for a job as a manager in insurance firms, small and medium-sized companies and private schools for the past six months, but to no avail.

He said: “I find that many hiring managers are young and are not comfortable with working with older employees.

“But we can contribute, have the experience and are willing to learn. I hope that they will give us a chance.”