It appears that ageism may be responsible for the rise in the number of redundancies and the difficulties faced by older Singaporeans trying to re-enter the workforce (“Career switch hardest for PMETs re-entering the workforce”; May 14, online).

However, Singapore’s unemployment numbers continue to be relatively low. Older professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) will not wait indefinitely for another professional or managerial position while their savings deplete if they have a family to support. Desperation will cause many to grab the next opening that comes along — often a job for which they are overqualified.

The problem is that many older workers have a last-drawn salary that surpasses that of the hiring manager interviewing them. They may even possess more experience than the latter. Insecure managers hesitate to hire such jobseekers, who may end up displacing their supervisors.

Also, university-educated PMETs in their 40s or 50s continue to find it difficult to compete with younger and cheaper foreign white-collar workers.

However, with fewer young adults entering the workforce and many starting their careers at a later age because of tertiary studies, employers must shift away from discriminatory practices against older workers.

With increased longevity and improved health, ageing is less and less synonymous with dependency. Although the risk of chronic illness and disability increases with age, many persons with chronic conditions and functional limitations retain other significant capabilities.

The paradigm of ageing as a dependent stage of life does not match current realities. This and the stereotype of seniors as unproductive are unfair and detrimental to their dignity.

There are government policies and programmes to promote active ageing and full economic integration into society for seniors.

However, so long as the authorities do not make it compulsory to re-employ workers up to the age of 67, the recommendations of the Tripartite Committee on Employability of Older Workers will cut no ice with employers. In fact, because of age discrimination, many perfectly healthy older workers feel they have been forced by circumstances into leaving the labour force.

The prevailing idea that older employees must retire at an arbitrary age in order to provide jobs for younger people must also be re-examined. If people are able to work longer, society should not discourage them from doing so.

Article from Today Online