Written by Lim Sia Hoe.
Doing More for Mature Workers in times of Need
Singapore is currently facing strong
economic headwinds. Growth has slowed in 2015 and looks to remain weak over
2016. Correspondingly, workforce growth has also come off, and we are reading
grim reports each day of companies retrenching staff and consolidating
Needless to say, Singapore’s mature
workers – who are already a vulnerable segment – are facing even stiffer
challenges. According to MOM’s latest labour force report, the
unemployment rate for residents aged 50 & over has increased from 2.8% in
2014 to 3.3% to 2015. Older residents also tended to experience longer
unemployment spells than their younger counterparts with the median duration of
unemployment being 12 weeks, compared with 4 weeks for job seekers aged 15 to
24. The situation will likely worsen in view of the poor economic outlook.
To mitigate the impact, we need a
concerted and collective effort in two areas.
Upskill and reskill, but at the right areas
Much has been talked about the need to
continually upskill and reskill our workforce to remain relevant and
competitive, and rightly so. SkillsFuture represents a significant advancement
of this cause with its aim of creating opportunities for all to pursue and
attain skills mastery. This is especially crucial for mature workers, who must
be a focus group under this initiative. We need to ensure they are sufficiently
invested in skills upgrading, and are facilitated in the process. This means we
have to do more to help them stay employable.
Unlike younger workers, mature
workers do not have the luxury of time to contemplate their skills development
needs, not least with the current economic conditions. They need to
possess skills that their employers value, quickly. As a first step, the
government needs to work with employers across all industry sectors to see
ahead and identify emerging skills and in-demand skills early, and ensure
sufficient training resources are prioritized for mature workers. With the volatile
and fast-changing pace of development today, this is certainly no easy feat.
For mature job seekers, the training
must further be supported with sustained efforts to advise and match these
workers with suitable employers. In 2014, MOM reported that the placement rate
for workers aged 50 and above by our career centres was than less than 40%. We
can do better. We need to strengthen our existing suite of intervention
programmes to specifically promote the employment of mature workers, across the
professional/managerial and the rank-and-file levels.
Enlightened employers creating conducive workplaces
Promoting employment and employability
is, and should always be, shared responsibility. As we ask the government and
our mature workers to invest more into skills development and upgrading, employers
too must play their part by adapting age-friendly practices and giving mature
workers a fair opportunity to contribute. Employers should recognize
the unique value provided by mature workers and deploy them in roles that play
to their strengths. Long-serving staff can be an invaluable source of
crystalline intelligence, i.e. wisdom and experience, and can serve
purposefully as mentors and advisers to support knowledge exchange within the
organization. Such virtues should be harnessed, not discarded.
Workplaces also have to be made more
conducive for mature workers. For instance, just as we provide flexible
work-arrangements for expecting and new mothers, the same should be similarly
considered for mature workers to lengthen their productive years and allow them
a smooth transition into eventual retirement. We encourage employers to tap
onto the various government schemes to support the transformation of their
workplaces. The benefits of doing so will be enjoyed by all sides.
Ageing affects all of us
It bears emphasizing that ageing affects all of us. Our attitudes and
efforts towards empowering and investing in our mature workers reflect
Singapore’s maturity as an ageing society. They also a test of our ability to
cope with the challenges it brings.