Singapore

Firms must change work patterns to meet needs of ageing population

Paper says businesses that don't evolve to meet needs of ageing population will 'risk losing valuable staff at all ages'

The private sector is slow in changing corporate culture to meet the needs of Singapore's rapidly ageing population, putting companies at commercial risk, said an expert.

Companies that "fail to realise the need to change their working patterns run the risk of losing valuable staff at all ages".

"They will also run the risk of losing older workers, who will be particularly valuable in terms of understanding the needs of consumers who are also ageing," Professor Andrew Scott said in his paper, A Longevity Agenda For Singapore.

A professor of economics at the London Business School, he is also co-author of the book The 100-Year Life: Living And Working In An Age Of Longevity.

Contributing to the paper, which was released yesterday and sponsored by insurance company Prudential, were Professor John Wong, chief executive of the National University Health System; Dr Mary Ann Tsao, chairman of Tsao Foundation; and Mr Wilf Blackburn, chief executive of Prudential Singapore.

The 15-page paper forecast that by 2050, half the population here will be aged 65 and older, so it is "crucially important" for Singapore to invest in and focus on a longevity agenda.

It said Singapore is already at the "international frontier, frequently defining best practice" when it comes to coping with a rapidly ageing population.

But more still needs to be done as countries "seriously underestimate life expectancy for today's population", said Prof Scott.

Singapore has not just one of the highest life, but also healthy life, expectancies. To seize the advantages that longer lives bring, it needs to change the way things are done, said the paper.

EXTENDING CAREER

For example, longer lives mean people will need to work longer too, but just extending existing careers for more years might not be the best answer.

Raising the retirement age, if not coupled with good health and lifelong learning, "will just lead to increases in unemployment or sickness and disability".

It said Singapore's policies around lifelong learning are getting a lot of international attention.

Companies must support workers by building up their skills in a changing environment.

The paper recommended more flexible practices that let employees "ramp up and ramp down their working hours, in predetermined ways", and refashioning multiple paths around retirement with a focus on lifelong learning.

The paper admitted "one of the hardest challenges in adjusting to longer lives is to move away from deep-seated ageist prejudices". But age is "malleable" as people age differently. Some may want to work beyond 73, while others may be unable to work even to the age of 65.

Singapore does well among developed nations, with more older workers still employed. Of those aged 60 to 64, 64 per cent are working.

The paper said if participation of people 60 years and older goes up by 10 per cent, it could push up gross domestic product (GDP) by 1 per cent every year.

Last year, Singapore's GDP was $491 billion.

Employment