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Keeping up with an ageing workforce




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More than two thirds of HR professionals said that the exit of the Baby Boomers from the workforce would have a major impact on the labour market in the next five years, according to the latest survey by an international organisation, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). It i the world’s largest human resource organisation, with members in 160 countries.

Mark Schmit, the executive director of SHRM Foundation, said: “This is a big problem in many developed countries with an ageing population. Many industries experience the loss of knowledge and skills when the Baby Boomers retire.”

“For instance, in the oil and extraction industry, many corporations realise that the engineers replacing the retired engineers are not as experienced or skilled as their predecessors. It would then require the corporations to spend a lot of resources training the newcomers.”

SHRM subsequently has called for more research to formulate best practices for a future aged workforce. The group has launched an initiative in the United States to highlight the value of older workers and identify their distinctive interests and needs in the workplace. The group’s initiative is among the first-of-its-kind in the world.

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SHRM said it is currently researching and compiling an effective guideline to help HR professionals to retain and engage older employees. At the same time it will survey HR professionals to understand the current practices of corporations that already engage an ageing workforce.

Schmit emphasised the need to educate businesses on the implications of an aged workforce.

“The longer you retain the Baby Boomers, the better your corporation can expand. Especially in the senior management positions.”

So he said HR professionals and employers in countries with an ageing population must adopt new ways to retain these Baby Boomers. “Otherwise, organisations’ greatest asset will walk out the door in the next 10 years.”

In Singapore, there has also been talk about raising Singapore’s retirement age. Previously, Professor Lim Chong Yah, former president of the National Wages Council, has called to extend the retirement age to 65 as a counter-measure to the labour shortage.

The Ministry of Manpower has also pointed out that there is an increasing aged workforce in Singapore. The rate of older workers in the labour force has increased from 47.3 per cent in 2003 to 67.1 per cent in 2013.

Schmit said: “Previously HR professionals only face issues of retaining younger employees, which can be solved through better promotions and opportunities given. However an ageing workforce would have different needs. We need to find different ways to accommodate these needs.”

He said: “Workers aged 55 and above have distinctive interests, including flexible work arrangements and reduced working hours.”

A Civil Service College (CSC) research in 2012 also showed that older Singaporean workers are not interested in training and learning opportunities but place heavy emphasis on work-life balance and financial rewards.

Furthermore, both SHRM and the CSC research showed that with the growing number of younger workers filling up leadership positions and older workers retaining their senior positions, the issues of intergenerational tension would become more acute.

Schmit pointed out that older workers could also complicate career advancement for younger workers and contribute to intergenerational conflict.

“You may have a situation where a younger person is in a senior position dealing with an elderly employee. They would have different value systems, culture and upbringing. Through academic research and survey of current practices [among HR professionals], our campaign hopes to help employers understand these differences.”

SHRM will embark on a three-year project to conduct research and analysis of HR policies and practices and to educate business leaders about older workers and the implications for the workplace.

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