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National effort to help older workers find jobs: Tharman

Employers should rethink views on older workers, step up to give them opportunities

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Linette Lai on 18 Jun 2020

The Straits Times

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Employers who hire middle-aged and older Singaporeans will receive extra support from the Government, Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday.

 

A programme to open new pathways for mid-career job seekers will also be scaled up in the coming months. This will give them opportunities to work at companies and public sector agencies, and prepare for more permanent jobs, he added.

 

In a national broadcast on building a more cohesive society, Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, urged employers to rethink their views on hiring middle-aged and mature workers - and step up to give them opportunities.

 

Everyone benefits if it becomes the norm to hire from this group, he added, noting the labour force is much older today than it was in the late 1960s when the British announced their troop pullout, and in the mid-1980s when Singapore suffered a recession.

 

Less than 30 per cent of the labour force then was 40 years or older. Today, the proportion has doubled to 60 per cent, and many workers are 50 years or older.

 

This is the reason for the concerted effort now to help middle-aged and mature Singaporean workers, he added.

 

"This is, and must be, a national effort. And it needs new thinking among employers, to give middle-aged and mature Singaporean workers a fair chance to prove themselves," he said.

 

"Employers need to reorient their management philosophies, and their human resources and talent management practices."

 

Mr Tharman, who chairs the new National Jobs Council set up to help Singaporeans stay employable in a challenging economy, added: "No Singaporean who is willing to learn should be 'too old' to hire. And no one who is willing to adapt should be viewed as 'overqualified'. We will work closely with the business associations to bring all employers into this national effort."

 

The Manpower Ministry will also watch companies' hiring practices to ensure they comply with the Fair Consideration Framework, he added.

 

In the fifth of six national broadcasts on Singapore's post-coronavirus future, he said the Government's first priority is to save jobs and prevent people from being out of work for too long.

 

The country has faced conditions of high unemployment before, but today, it is in a much stronger position to address this challenge, he added.

 

Singapore's unemployment rate exceeded 6 per cent on two occasions - when the British began withdrawing their troops in the late 1960s and again, during the severe recession of the mid-1980s.

 

Today, its economy is more diversified, its people are far more skilled and investors have greater confidence in the country.

 

But its labour force is also much older now, Mr Tharman noted. And the older workers have had fewer educational opportunities than the younger generations, he said.

 

"But they are a hard-working and vigorous generation, who have accumulated valuable skills and experience over the years, and still have many good years ahead of them.

 

"We will spare no effort to help them carry on with their careers in the most productive jobs they can do, so that they can continue to provide for their families and contribute to Singapore."

 

Everyone is better off if it becomes the norm to hire middle-aged and older workers, he said.

 

"Our workers will be able to build on their skills and experience and we will have a more capable and motivated workforce, with a strong Singaporean core, that every employer can rely on."

 

SM THARMAN SHANMUGARATNAM ON...

 

TACKLING UNEMPLOYMENT

 

The reality of the matter is that we face strong headwinds. As long as grave uncertainty hangs over the global economy, and trade and travel are down, new job openings in Singapore will very likely be fewer than job losses.

 

So, if we leave things to market forces, unemployment will rise significantly over the next year, or even beyond that, if Covid-19 remains a threat. We are therefore working with companies, sector by sector, to take on Singaporeans through temporary assignments, attachments and traineeships during this down period so they get real work opportunities and get paid, and pick up skills while waiting for permanent jobs to open up.

 

MIDDLE-AGED, MATURE WORKERS

 

No Singaporean who is willing to learn should be 'too old' to hire. And no one who is willing to adapt should be viewed as 'overqualified'. We will work closely with the business associations to bring all employers into this national effort.

 

If it becomes the norm to hire mid-career Singaporeans and train them for new jobs, everyone is better off. Our workers will be able to build on their skills and experience, and we will have a more capable and motivated workforce, with a strong Singaporean core, that every employer can rely on.

 

SOCIAL MOBILITY

 

We must never become a society where social pedigree and connections count for more than ability and effort.

 

However, there is nothing natural or pre-ordained about social mobility. Every successful country has, in fact, found that it gets more difficult to sustain this with time. Parents who themselves had higher education or who have become better off are investing more in their children, and moving them further ahead of the rest.

 

It therefore requires relentless government effort, quality interventions in schools and dedicated networks of community support to keep social mobility alive.

 

BUILDING A CULTURE OF SOLIDARITY

 

We must remain a society where self-effort is rewarded, and each one of us takes pride in achieving something in life. But we also need, more than we did in the earlier years, a strong spirit of selflessness and solidarity, looking out for the vulnerable and supporting each other. Not because we are obliged to do so, but because it makes us a better society together.

 

We have seen this solidarity in action in the Covid-19 crisis. Singaporeans from all walks of life have come forward to support those who were most affected by the crisis, including by serving on the front lines.

 

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

 

 

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