THE fact that Singapore has an ageing population is well known. According to the Committee on Ageing Issues Report on the Ageing Population, between now and 2030, the country will witness an unprecedented and profound age shift.

It is estimated that the number of residents aged 65 years or older will multiply threefold from 300,000 in 2005 to 900,000 in 2030. By then, one in five residents will be a senior, compared with one in 12 residents in 2005.

Over the next decade, the employment of mature age workers is set for solid growth — and it has already begun. The employment rate of residents aged 55 to 64 has been increasing steadily over the past five years from 45 per cent in 2003 to 57 per cent in 2008, yet this is still lower than countries such as the United States of America (62 per cent), Japan (66 per cent) and Sweden (70 per cent). This offers significant opportunities for experienced workers across the country in the coming years.

Untapped potential

What is lost on many of us is the irony that while we have experienced one of the worst economic downturns in history, we still have a skills shortage in many sectors, and many of our mature-age workers are finding it difficult to get a job. And they really do want to work.

A study on Baby Boomers, commissioned by Singapore’s Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) in 2007, found that more than seven in 10 baby boomers were in the workforce or looking for work. Of those, almost half wished to, or expected to have to, work as long as they could.

Even among those who specified an age at which to retire from work, about three in 10 expected to do so at age 65 or older, beyond the current statutory retirement age of 62. This is not purely out of necessity — some want to work because of job satisfaction, and others want to keep busy, challenged and contributing.

The Singapore Government has responded to this by announcing it will introduce re-employment legislation by January 2012. This will enable more people to continue working beyond the current statutory retirement age of 62. The legislation will require firms to offer re-employment to their staff to continue working in their current jobs or in new roles. This is good news.

Together with the Government’s Advantage! Scheme introduced in 2006, which supports companies in their efforts to employ older workers, Singapore seems set to make the most of this rich talent pool.

In Randstad’s 2009 World of Work Report, only 30 per cent of employers in Singapore said they actively targeted mature age workers when recruiting. So despite the expected growth of mature age employment, businesses in Singapore last year continued to fall behind the curve in terms of accessing a rich source of talent.

However, in the 2010 Report, 69 per cent of employers have indicated they are actively recruiting people of a mature age. Though this development portends well to support Singapore’s economic growth, we still need to find better ways to put our still-ready-and-willing, mature-age people to work.

Open-minded employers

The main challenge employers must overcome to achieve this is simple — not only must they be open to employing mature-age workers, they also need to get serious about retaining them once employed and realise the benefits this will bring to the organisation. This means getting creative with work structures.

Mature-age workers place a premium on work-life balance, so employers need to look at providing flexible working arrangements — and making the offering unique to each individual. Employers should see the immense value in this, particularly while the market remains challenging.

Rather than handing out redundancies, or asking employees to reduce their hours to cut costs, employers can marry their needs with those of mature-age workers — a win-win for all parties.

When an employer has these options in place, make them known throughout the organisation — this is important for retention. Often, an employee will leave a full-time job for a more flexible one, because he didn’t know about an alternative. External partners, including recruitment and HR consultants can help employers to overcome some of the barriers in this area.

Research has shown that mature-age workers are more loyal, with average tenures of five to six years compared to between 18 months and four years for Generations X and Y.

Not one employer in Randstad’s 2009 World of Work Report said mature-age workers in Singapore were the most difficult generation to retain — in comparison to 44 per cent of Generation Y and 22 per cent of Generation X workers. And according to the World Health Organisation, they also take fewer sick days.