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Guest View: Dealing with a multi-generational workforce in Singapore

Mark Dixon | July 2, 2013
For any sensible employer, age is irrelevant. All that matters is that you choose people with the right qualities for the job in question.

Much has been said and written about ageing populations, a problem that is most acute in Japan, where over-65s currently account for 25 percent of the population, and may account for 40 percent by the year 2060.

At the other extreme, meanwhile, there is the equally pressing problem of countries like Spain, where 55 percent of young people are currently out of work.

So what can we do to accommodate the older workers who might once have been considered past retiring age, while simultaneously offering opportunities to school leavers or graduates who might otherwise drift towards the margins of society?

Let's start at the senior end. At board level, for instance, experience matters above all. You want people who can make judgements based on first-hand knowledge, people who have witnessed failure as well as success, and understand the reasons for each. They are best placed to guide the executive team away from the bear traps and towards the most productive avenues of business.

Older people have other advantages, too. The Japanese construction equipment maker Komatsu now claims to rehire 90 percent of its retirees - and no wonder, because those same people are prepared to work for 40 percent less than their under-65 equivalents!

Despite all these factors favouring older workers, there is still a widespread prejudice against them - as many over-50s have discovered, especially in recession-hit economies.

In the United States, charges filed under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act rose by 48 percent between 1997 and 2010. But this is an area where the law is not always helpful. After all, by paying its over-65s 40 percent less for the same work, Komatsu is surely guilty of discrimination - even if all parties concerned are happy with the arrangement.

Common sense and flexibility

The answer is common sense and flexibility. And the same applies at the other end of the age spectrum.

Only the most short-sighted of employers fail to recognise the value of young people in the workplace. Not only are they usually energetic and keen to learn; they are also much more adept at using IT and social media, which create new markets and business opportunities every day.

Yet the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has warned of a "scarred" generation of young workers either jobless or obliged to work for unduly low wages who may come to distrust the political and economic system.

Many African economies, for instance, are facing exactly the opposite problems to Japan, with growing economies, but young people are shut out of the labour market. The World Bank estimates that Africa will need to create 100 million more jobs by 2020 just to maintain current levels of employment.


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