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Are employers discriminating against hiring older workers?

Posted on 31/05/2021 by webadmin

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This editorial is contributed by Joshua Yim, CEO of Achieve Group.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues unabated, older workers particularly those above mid-40 have been in the news for being badly hit by job fallouts and bleak job outlook.

There have been many stories on the ground about job cuts hitting older workers to a greater extent. Older workers have also been lamenting on various platforms about the difficulties in getting hired.

Ms Ho See Ling’s letter on the Straits Times Forum, titled ‘Older workers. Tough time getting past recruiters and HR staff, dated May 4, 2021, is a case in point of the predicament faced by older workers.

While I greatly empathise with Ms Ho, it is timely to analyse whether recruiters and employers do indeed discriminate against hiring older workers, and whether there is any recourse to this predicament.

WHAT DETERMINES CANDIDATE CRITERIA?

As a leader of a long-standing recruitment firm in Singapore, I wish to point out that recruiters have a list of criteria when shortlisting candidates for interview, and more often than not, these criteria are dictated by the companies we serve.

While, as recruiters, we do endeavour to influence the hiring company in reviewing their prerequisite, the customer nevertheless has the last word in determining candidate criteria and candidate consideration.

Similarly, in most corporations and SMEs, the candidate criteria used in the hiring process is set by corporate directive which the HR department has to abide by, and the suitability of candidates for positions within the organisation is ultimately determined by the management.

In a great number of these companies, the management has been reluctant to consider older candidates as there is a perception that mature workers have a fixed mindset that does not take well to newer methods of working and they have a heightened sense of self-importance due to their years of experience working with various companies; hiring companies in turn find it difficult to manage such issues.

Furthermore, there is a general belief that older workers are slow in adapting to new technology. They are also seen as being less driven than their younger counterparts as they no longer have financial needs and career goals to achieve; and they are regarded as more expensive to hire. These factors have made mature workers less welcomed by the management of many companies.

CHANGING TIDE IN MANAGEMENT MINDSET

The efforts of the Ministry of Manpower to protect older workers against age discrimination, however, has made employers re-look at the hiring of mature workers. MOM’s partnering with the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) has also made headway in promoting their employability.

Along with this, the government’s active encouragement of companies to engage older workers through the Special Employment Credit, Senior Worker Support Package, and salary support scheme under the Jobs Growth Incentive have incentivised companies to hire workers above the age of 40.

One very clear indication is in the 20 th edition of the jobs situation report which stated that of the 130,000 locals hired from September to November 2020, close to half of the JGI-supported hires were aged 40 and above, with one-third aged 50 and above. This is a very positive sign that employers are welcoming of older workers.

UPSIDES IN HIRING OLDER WORKERS

As an employer myself, with a growing pool of staff in their late 40s and 50s, I have seen many upsides in hiring older workers. For one, they have accumulated a wealth of skills that are highly transferable. Secondly, they bring with them a host of job and personal experiences that confer them good job fit. With this, they need less hand-holding in dealing with work challenges and issues.

Very importantly too, they possess initiative, responsibility and maturity in getting work done. Such attributes have been key in their ability to assimilate into and contribute effectively to the company. Once they settle into their jobs, they tend to stay longer in the company. And adding to that, they possess a wide network of contacts, consisting of previous colleagues, clients, supervisors and bosses, which are beneficial in opening doors and setting up business relations.

As such, I would like to beseech my fellow SME owners and top corporate executives to consider the strengths of older workers and appreciate the positive attributes they will bring, for indeed they are an under-utilised talent resource in Singapore.

Furthermore, I would like to advocate the government to continue engaging corporations and SMEs in hiring older workers through salary support schemes. The impact of the JGI in effecting an upswing in the employment of older workers is a clear indication that such initiatives are effective in mitigating the employment difficulties of mature workers.

Secondly, I would like to advocate for grants that facilitate companies in re-designing jobs and workplaces to better fit older workers. With active engagement, this would further incentivise companies to review their jobs and hiring policies, as well as enlarge their pool of older workers.

By engaging the older workforce, I believe that in the long run, companies and the economy as a whole, will be strengthened with the skills, knowledge and experience that older workers can contribute.