TL;DR – Old people were young people before young people were people.
You might have or have not realized:
I can go on and on, but my point is, if you look around, you will notice elderly uncles and aunties who are still working actively. In fact, most are still agile and contributing meaningfully in their respective jobs.
I guess it’s not hard to understand why Labour MP Heng Chee How, who has been advocating for mature workers for years, voiced his concern for this group of workers when speaking at the Debate on the President’s Address on 15 May 2018.
Did you know one-third of our workforce is made up of mature workers – which might include your parents (if they’re still working) and mine?
Still don’t see what’s alarming? Come, let me break it down for you.
So you see, everyone’s talking about disruptions aka the technology that transforms industries and the robots that take away jobs. It’s not say say only just to scare you ok? It’s REAL, it’s already happening and it’s going to come at an even more fast and furious pace.
One-third of our workforce are mature workers and this works out to about 750,000 workers. What this means is that a substantial number of them will be affected by all the transformation and disruption. To put it bluntly, the mature workers are at great risk of losing their jobs once their industries or work have been disrupted away if they do not have relevant skills.
Can you imagine a group of mature workers who are involuntarily unemployed and might face difficulty landing their next jobs? Who’s going to help them?
And by mature workers, we’re referring to people perhaps in their 50s and 60s. With Singaporeans’ average lifespan at 82 years old, these workers are actually still very young in their 50s and have many more good years to contribute. But what if all they have are yesterday’s skills and they don’t have what it takes to do tomorrow’s jobs? And what if ageism takes over and no one wants to hire them even though they’re completely able to perform well in their work?
While I do not deny the fact that some seniors may be driven to work due to financial considerations, I say we must not be blinded by the fact that many seniors who are still very robust, highly capable and mighty experienced — and they want to remain active and contribute.
They should be given a choice to work and if they do choose to work, they should be given a chance to work.
Which is why, Mr Heng is urging for industries in which these mature workers are currently in, and are already experiencing disruption, to be identified quickly. While there is still time, they can be trained and upgraded, and are given at least equal opportunity to do so, compared to younger workers, before their current skill set becomes irrelevant or when the business model in their industry is disrupted.
Having said that, it is also important for companies to do away with ageist behavior and be receptive and accepting of mature workers. If 92-year-old Tun M can be “re-employed” as Malaysia’s 7th Prime Minister, what makes you think that elder auntie or uncle is not as capable as the younger ones?
On the other hand, the mature workers must also possess the right attitude and be willing to play their part to continually upskill, reskill and deep-skill to enhance their employability.
As Mr Heng has said, it takes two hands to clap.
“There are five birds sitting on a branch. A shot ran out as a hunter fired his gun at them. How many birds were left on the branch? All the five birds knew that they should fly away for their own safety. How many were left on the branch?
The answer is “It depends”.”
Mr Heng is right. There’s a big difference between deciding on something and actually doing it. You can choose to fly away to survive or remain standing and be shot – The choice is yours.