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Budget could cut prejudice against hiring older workers

Senior Worker Support Package and Mid-Career Support Package could remove the 'cost equation' from it, say recruiters

The slew of government budgetary measures rolled out on Tuesday to boost jobs for mid-career and older workers can do more than just make these workers cheaper to hire.


THE slew of government budgetary measures rolled out on Tuesday to boost jobs for mid-career and older workers can do more than just make these workers cheaper to hire.

Recruiters who spoke to The Business Times said the measures are a key first step to killing the long-held prejudice against recruiting mature workers, generally viewed as less productive and a cost burden to businesses. They said this is a misperception and that getting rid of the bias will open the door wider to older workers.

Bhaskar Prabhakara, founder and chief executive of WeInvest, a digital wealth-solutions provider, said grants and incentives such as the Senior Worker Support Package (SWSP) would encourage companies to be open to hiring older workers; this is particularly for startups in the fintech industry, which generally hire younger people, he said. Such schemes will " kickstart a slow but necessary mindset shift in employers".

Announced in Budget 2020, the SWSP aims to help those aged above 50 who want to keep working, by providing employers wage offsets for hiring them. It also provides Central Provident Fund "transition" grants to smooth adjustments to the CPF contribution hikes next year, financial supports for employers who raise the retirement and re-employment ages ahead of the legislated changes, and for firms that have part-time provisions.

The SkillsFuture Mid-Career Support Package, another set of measures, is intended to support Singaporeans in their 40s and 50s to stay employable and to move to new jobs or roles. Among the measures are expanded capacity for reskilling, incentives for employers to hire, retain and retrain such workers and streamlined manpower schemes that include support for hiring and keeping such workers.

Amarjit Kaur, a partner at law firm Withers Khattar Wong, said: "The enhanced government support for the hiring of older workers is an important step forward in removing the bias against hiring those from this age-group. As more employers actually start employing older workers, they will see the value such workers can add to an organisation."

She said the budgetary measures targeted at boosting jobs for senior workers will introduce "a move towards normalising older workers in the workplace", which should reduce aged-related discrimination or bias over time.

"This mindset change towards hiring older workers is essential in light of our ageing population and the fact that more seniors wish to remain actively engaged in work for longer."

Vivian Chua, Singapore managing director of HP Inc, said her company has been cultivating a multi-generational workforce: "The nitiatives by the government will accelerate our efforts to upskill our workforce, and support diversity and inclusion."

David Leong, CEO of Straits Trades Incorporated, a consulting firm that focuses on acquisition, merger and investment solutions, views the SWSP measures as "schemes devised to motivate, nudge employers in their hiring habits and to shift them to prefer senior workers".

"Where costs and expenses for employing elderly workers were deemed high before, these schemes will change the cost equation. In doing this with wage subsidies and credits, the government is advocating hiring behaviour to change as well."

He said the government can do more by promoting the hiring of such elderly workers within its ranks and allowing senior officers in the army and police force to serve in different capacities.

But some others think the Budget 2020 grants and incentives will not go far enough to remove the prejudice against older workers.

Panneer Selvam, a partner at People Advisory Services, Ernst & Young Solutions, a professional services firm, said "misplaced stereotypes" of mature workers being less productive and more expensive to train are too ingrained for the budgetary initiatives to change.

"More needs to be done to help companies understand the benefits of having a workforce diverse in age and experience."

Peter Hamilton, vice-president and regional director of human resources consulting firm KellyOCG, said employers should do their bit by looking into integrating senior workers into the workplace.

Anuradha Purbey, people director of Asia at insurance company Aviva, said complementary steps to change the negative mindset against older workers must be taken to make the most of the budgetary measures.

"At Aviva, we have initiated the growth mindset programme, which helps employees appreciate the limitless potential they each have, regardless of age and other such parameters."

Tan Chee Wei, head of consumer and retail, tax at audit firm KPMG, said it is critical to ensure that the budgetary measures are made accessible for enterprises - now caught up with current business challenges - to adopt.

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