Hiring older workers

Andrew Fung, general manager, TAFEP, Singapore (Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices) (the organisation promotes the adoption of fair, responsible and merit-based employment practices among employers, employees and the general public) shares his thoughts:

What help is there when someone encounters age discrimination at work?
Anyone who has experienced age discrimination at work, can now contact TAFEP for advice and assistance. What we’re learning at TAFEP is that addressing age discrimination in an effective way that is not straightforward and we are always mindful to do more good than harm in what we try to do. Thankfully in Singapore we already have a practical set of fair employment guidelines that set out some good principles with examples of what is acceptable when it comes to age and work.

How is ageing going to impact the organisation or team I lead?
Some smart employers and supervisors have already realised that effectively addressing ageing is a tremendous business opportunity to gain competitive advantage. While some organisations are struggling with the high staff turnover, dysfunctional teams and disengaged employees, other employers are learning that simple steps, which take into account the ageing of the workforce, can reduce costs and raise productivity.

What do you think are possible impacts of an ageing workforce on fair employment policies and how can companies manage them?
With more mature workers and a shrinking pool of younger Singaporeans entering the workforce, Singapore is experiencing a demographic change that will affect practically every employer. Employers cannot assume that they can continue to rely on hiring young people to meet manpower needs as it will be increasingly difficult. By not stereotyping, employers get to widen their pool of talent. There are simple steps that employers can take to avoid being discriminatory, e.g. focusing on the relevant skill or ability rather than stipulate age as a requirement for employment. Words or phrases that suggest preference for young candidates should also not be used in job advertisements. If the nature of the job is physically demanding such as the handling of heavy cargo, the required physical attributes or other job-related criteria should be clearly described in the job advertisements, rather than indicating a specific age cut-off such as “must be below 30”.

How are Singapore companies faring when it comes to hiring and treating older workers in a fair manner?
With TAFEP’s promotional efforts, we do see signs of progress in this area. It is now rare to see job ads that have a maximum age requirement. Most employers realise the importance of hiring on merit and using of relevant criteria. While age discrimination continues to be a concern given the growing pool of mature Singaporean workers, I am encouraged that more and more employers are adopting employment practices supportive of fair and responsible employment practices.

What are the common misconceptions companies have about hiring older workers?
One of the key challenges mature employees face is the prevailing mindset of some employers who feel that certain jobs may require physical abilities beyond mature and older employees’ abilities. It is also common for employees to stereotype and think that older employees are unwilling to change, or learn new things or technology. All these assumptions and stereotypes need to change as many Singaporeans are living longer and staying fit longer. The sooner the companies act to overcome these stereotypes, the better it is for their businesses.

** TAFEP’s Fung will be a speaker at the the upcoming Age Friendly Workforce Asia 2011 Conference.


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