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Do employers discriminate and choose not to hire older workers?

Posted on 06/07/2021 by webadmin

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This article was contributed by Joshua Yim, CEO of Achieve Group, and was published in Zaobao on June 23, 2021. Below is the English translation of the Mandarin article.

Do employers discriminate and choose not to hire older workers?

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 employment outlook.

There have been many stories on the ground about older workers lamenting 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 matured workers.

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

WHAT DETERMINES CANDIDATE’S CRITERIA?

As a leader of a recruitment firm in Singapore for 30 years, I wish to point out that recruiters are usually given a list of criteria when shortlisting candidates, and more often than not, there are largely specified by the companies we serve.

While as recruiters, we can endeavour to influence the hiring company in reviewing their selection criteria, the customer nevertheless has the last word in determining the candidate’s suitability.

Similarly, in most MNCs and SMEs, the candidate selection criteria is set by corporate directives or the bosses of the company which the HR department has to abide by. Decision of hire is also ultimately determined by the senior management.

Why then had a great number of these decision makers been reluctant to consider older candidates?

In my observation over the years, there are a few key factors.

There is a general perception that mature workers have a fixated mindset that does not sit well with newer methods of working or fit into a new working environment. They seem to be slow to adapt, especially towards new technologies which is a big shortcoming.

Their heightened sense of self-importance due to their years of experience working with various companies, lead hiring companies to find it difficult to manage them. This is an issue especially when they take on a more junior role, as the supervisor would probably be younger than them.

On top of that, many employers believe that senior employees take on less qualified roles as a temporary stop-gap measure, and when a more befitting position comes along in the near future, they would just jump ship.

There is also a general opinion they are less driven than their younger counterparts since they would no longer have much financial needs as home mortgages are already paid off, and thus have less career goals to strive towards. And finally, what is most important is that senior workers are regarded as more expensive to hire due to the years of experience they have, compared to their younger counterparts.

With all these considerations in mind, it is natural that HR personnel and company heads have the tendency to shun getting mature workers into their teams.

CHANGING TIDE IN MANAGEMENT’S MINDSET

In recent years, much efforts have been poured into protecting our older workers against age discrimination and to make employers re-look at hiring them.

MOM’s partnering with the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) is one of the initiatives. Public campaigns on fair employment that take into consideration the merits of one’s competency instead of age is another, along with a slew of other initiatives.

However, as a HR and recruitment practitioner, I do question the effectiveness of these schemes and interventions. It was not till 2020, when an unprecedented worldwide disaster struck Singapore, that the government rolled out the Job Support Scheme among many other schemes to prevent massive layoffs and help the companies through the dire situation.

The Job Growth Incentive was the next groundbreaking initiative in encouraging re-employment of workers by companies. And interestingly, what we witnessed for ourselves were some astounding results.

Out of the 130,000 locals hired from September to November 2020, according to the jobs situation report, close to half of the JGI-supported hires were aged 40 and above, with one-third aged 50 and above. It showed that the JGI scheme works remarkably in getting employers to hire mature workers with open arms!

UPSIDES IN HIRING OLDER WORKERS

For many years, I have always believed in the capabilities and upsides in hiring mature workers. With our business needs and the attractiveness of the various schemes, our company too has engaged a couple of senior workers in their late 40s and 50s recently.

Our working experience with these new employees has reinforced my long-standing intuition of their competency and contributions to our team.

Firstly, mature workers have accumulated a wealth of skillsets from their years of working that are transferable to new appointments. These job and personal experiences confer them independence in dealing with work challenges and issues, as well as good job fit, rendering very little need of constant handholding.

Senior employees would usually exhibit good emotional intelligence and tactfulness through their years in dealing with human relationship challenges in the working world. This enables them to work well with their teammates which makes life much easier. They would even at times play the role of counsellors to the younger workforce in advising them with wise counsel, and act as stabilizers in the team.

Very importantly, they possess initiative and responsibility in getting work done. Such attributes have been key in their ability to contribute effectively to the organisation. 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.

With all these strengths and the prevailing government grants available, I would like to beseech my fellow SME owners and top corporate executives to consider adding older workers to your teams, and harness the best of their potential to build your businesses.

THE ROAD AHEAD

At the same time, I would like to make a strong appeal to our government to continue the present JGI scheme, or even add some new innovative interventions to incentivize bosses and decision makers to hire mature workers.

Policies shape behavior. The impact of the JGI in influencing the employment of older workers by the companies is obvious. The continuation of equivalent policies in this direction will therefore not just mitigate the employment difficulties of mature workers in the longer term, but help build companies with these talents too.

One of the cornerstones of nation building since the founding of our country is meritocracy and the utilisation of competent, talented people. What Singapore is inheriting is a generation of mid-career individuals who have been underutilised because of agism.

The imperative for our government would then be the harnessing of this generation of mid-career workforce and their contributions as one of the strategic advantages of Singapore in the competitive post-Covid-19 landscape.