Tapping on silver talent

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says the government is progressively doing more to encourage the employment of older workers. Is such a strategy feasible, and what part can HR play in keeping mature staff working longer?

In his recent May Day Rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that more will be done to help mature workers carry on working past retirement age. He highlighted that this group of seniors in their golden years want to work longer, and such a practice is being encouraged by the government.

Currently, under the Retirement and Re-employment Act, employers have to offer re-employment to retirement-age workers for at least another three years to age 65. According to a survey by Ministry of Manpower, 98% of workers who reach the age of 62, get an offer to continue working, and many of them take their employers up on it.

HR professionals in Singapore say that retaining mature workers is not something new in their arena, especially since the country is facing an ageing population and a manpower crunch.

“The shortage of human resources available in Singapore means that companies need to continue to maximise the resources they have,” says Yong Lee Lee, Vice President of HR, SingPost. “We believe that having the right attitude towards the re-employment of older workers is a positive step towards a more self-sufficient national workforce.”

Wendy Soh, Director of Mitsui Chemical Asia’s Business Excellence Center, agrees. At Mitsui Chemicals, there are currently five retirees under extended contract beyond the age of 62. Soh says that all of them are willing to continue working so long as the company offers to let them do so.

SingPost has also been re-employing older workers under its “Rehire of Retiree” scheme, which was introduced in 1994 – long before the Singapore’s government’s 2007 announcement on re-employing senior workers.

For employers to continue re-employing older workers, it is imperative they ensure the workplace can accommodate the specific needs of this group. HR has to be flexible and open to dealing with changes when it comes to generational differences.

In his May Day speech, PM Lee emphasised the need to take a pragmatic approach when it comes to re-hiring older workers. “It will depend on the workers’ health; it will depend on the nature of their jobs and on the company’s needs. We cannot go for a ‘one size fits all’ policy, just pushing up the retirement age, or compelling employers to hire all workers regardless of the conditions,” he said.

In many cases, HR will have to re-define job roles to keep many of these talented staff, especially when it comes to jobs involving manual labour.

“A variety of ways to enable greater participation in the Baby Boomer workforce include leveraging on technology to enable the same outcome, and using equipment with instructions in larger font sizes,” says Cheryl Liew-Chng, author and work-life expert.

SingPost uses innovative strategies to reduce the physical strain on workers. For example, it began using motorised pallet trucks in 2007 so that postal delivery staff did not have to pull heavy mail pallets manually.

While job re-designs and investments in new technologies might be costly, there is definite value in creating a workplace culture where older workers are able to contribute.

“HR should see older workers as a source of quality manpower contributing to the organisation and recognise the value of making workplaces age-friendly by sharing the benefits of hiring mature workers with existing younger workers,” says Priscilla Chen, Senior Consultant at Kerry Consulting. “With the right training and technology in place, mature workers will find themselves being able to perform effectively, giving them a sense of fulfillment in contributing at their age.”

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