Kwoh Choo Chye was an experienced supervisor at an electronics company when he received the dreaded letter informing him that he was surplus to requirements in 2014.
As the breadwinner who had to take care of an autistic son, Kwoh was aware that he faced a big obstacle in finding his next job: his age.
Despite going for many interviews after his retrenchment, several prospective employers hinted to Kwoh, now 60, that his age was a deal breaker.
“At the end of the interview, they (the interviewers) would ask for my age, after which their stance would change towards me. Although there are guidelines in place not to let age be a factor in hiring, their reluctance showed in their body language.
“But I don’t blame them. Perhaps they want to take in a younger worker who can remain at the company longer,” said Kwoh.
It took him 20 months before he was able to secure another job with the help of his union, this time in the public transport industry.
Kwoh’s experience is becoming more commonplace among mature Singaporean workers amid slower job growth and ongoing retrenchments due to challenging economic conditions.
The re-entry rate – or the proportion of residents who regained employment within three months after being retrenched – as at the end of the second quarter of this year was 42 per cent for workers who were 50 and above. The same rate was lower for PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technical workers) at 39.6 per cent.
Bias of companies against mature workers
In the past decade of running a recruitment business, I have lost count of the number of employers who told us that they have some “expectations” for their new hires.
Employers are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of age in their job advertisements so they typically outsource the “filtering out” of mature workers to recruitment businesses, which typically would comply with clients’ requests or risk losing their business.
The bias of some employers against mature workers is due to their perception that these workers are slower and less productive compared with their younger counterparts but this has been debunked by several studies.
A US report revealed findings by German carmaker BMW that showed changes made in its workplace to accommodate mature workers have resulted in higher productivity and lower absenteeism at the company.
There is clearly a strong bias in many companies in favour of younger workers. But many Generation Y workers still lag behind mature workers in areas such as employee loyalty, reliability and experience.
Workers who are in their 50s or 60s can still contribute to a company’s growth for up to 10 years and their impact may even surpass that of some of their younger colleagues over the same period of time.
About four months ago, I started a human resource consultancy, which is my fourth business. Although I am an experienced HR professional, HR consultancy is a new area of business for my partners and me.
Fortunately, we were able to tap the experience of Hua Pak Cheong, who had done consultancy work in industries ranging from retail to manufacturing.
We decided to hire Hua and thanks to his help, we were even able to open a new line of service focusing on implementing flexible work arrangements for our clients. Without him, our business might not have taken off.
Hua happened to be 71 years old and has over three decades of experience in advising companies ranging from small and medium enterprises to multi-national corporations.
Highly experienced, mature workers with the right mindset and expectations can be valuable assets to companies. With lifelong learning being a mantra for Singapore Inc., younger workers – and managers – have a lot to learn from older workers like Kwoh and Hua.
Adrian Tan is a HR professional who blogs about entrepreneurship and human resource issues.