DR TAN Guan Hong, 60, is programme director at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's Institute for Infocomm Research (I²R), a job that involves addressing technology, engineering support and productivity programmes for small and medium-sized enterprises and older workers - two areas of interest, given government policies that urge bosses to keep workers employed and adopt technology and innovation to improve productivity.
How can firms get older workers on board with new technology to boost productivity?
I've seen firms partner the younger generation with the older generation. For example, you have an older-generation worker who is an expert in cooking. He knows what ingredients to use and when the fire gets hot, but if you ask him to use modern technology, he is not familiar with it.
If both come together, there is cross-training. The young ones can teach technology to the older ones, who can teach the younger ones in their area of expertise.
The younger workforce is more technologically savvy; you don't have to give them a manual and they can figure things out, while the older generation has experience and skills.
How are firms missing out on productivity when they neglect older workers?
The supply of younger workers is getting short; not everyone is producing two kids, and you have the baby boomers - a bulging age group. Another problem you have is that the more educated the employees are, the less they would want to do those jobs.
As a business, if you're complaining, you're not looking at this as an opportunity.
If you train the older workers, they will not job hop; they are unlikely to (change) companies, they know the value of a job. The younger ones are more mobile.
You can train a younger worker, but if he finds it a boring job, he resigns. What do you do? You try to recruit again, but you're not solving the problem.
What are some of the issues regarding older workers and automation?
The impression is that older workers are slower, but they are stable. Usually they are physically not so strong, but their mind is.
The firms should ask themselves how they want to grow the company. You can use machinery to supplement their physical strength and use their brains.
We should not think of training people in terms of technology, which has a lifespan. These days, you see a new mobile phone model every six months.
For example, I recently visited Orchid Laundry, which is run by the second generation. They bought automated machines and wanted to run three shifts but it was difficult to find workers.
There is an avenue for them to use older workers, but as the office is in Tuas, it's another problem regarding transport and, in turn, getting older workers to go there.
There are many issues, and the companies have to address those one after another.
Besides the Government encouraging firms to keep workers employed as they get older and to train them, what can employees do?
The older person must have something to look forward to.
My company SysEng was acquired by Tritech Group in 2009 and in 2012, I joined I²R.
My wife tells me that she sees me less when I'm working at I²R than when I was doing my own business. She said, you're supposed to be retired, why are you working more hours than before?
It's not that my boss asked me to do so. I feel I've so many things I can teach my younger staff and at the same time, I learn from them. It's a two-way process.
I always ask people, why do you want to wake up tomorrow morning? If you have nothing to look forward to, you might as well sleep forever. You have to find what drives you to wake up tomorrow morning.
On the other hand, you also have older workers who think they know everything. But if you enlarge their job scope, they'll start to realise they don't.
How much should firms invest in training older workers?
For small and medium-sized enterprises, 10 per cent of the annual salary is a good place to start. You need to assign a proper budget for it, to let people know there's a value to training.
Training is an investment in an individual and he carries those skills for the rest of his life.
But in our accounting system today, training is an expense, not an asset. I used to have long arguments with my accountant, so I asked her, if that's the case, why send your kids to school?
In Philips Electronics, where I worked from 1980 to 1993, I was brought up in that culture - that training is an investment - and in Philips, we also had job rotations.
What is your learning and teaching philosophy?
Learning what you don't know. I'm like that. In my second year at the University of Sheffield (where I later obtained my PhD), my worst subjects were in electrical engineering, my best were in electronics.
I chose to major in electrical engineering and my professor asked me why. I said, I'm a student, I'm here to learn, I should learn what I do not know.
When I was running my business, I had to make and sell equipment to companies such as multinationals which do have older workers.
We had to train their engineering staff and you have to engage them with the personal touch. You can't just give them a manual.
When I want to teach someone who is reluctant or resistant, I say, let me share my experience with you, not let me teach you how to do it.