Analysis: How can Asia tackle its ageing talent tsunami?

Harnessing the skills of the 'silver workforce' is just one of the suggestions

An elderly person at home is “like a living golden treasure”. So runs an oft-quoted Chinese proverb – but Hong Kong is starting to ponder its worth in the wake of a warning that the city faces an “ageing tsunami” along with much of Asia, where innovative plans are being considered to tackle the looming crisis caused by a rapidly ageing population and sluggish birth rate.

Labour secretary Law Chi-kwong sounded the alarm when he cited official figures indicating that by 2066 Hong Kong – which has a current population of seven million – would likely have to cope with around 2.5 million over-85s, four times as many as it does now.

Some commentators have suggested that importing more domestic helpers from around Asia to assist with elderly care would ease the burden on society. Hong Kong already employs 320,000 domestic helpers from the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia.

Others have suggested that Guangdong province in mainland China would be the most obvious source, not least because its inhabitants speak Cantonese, the same dialect as Hong Kong.

David Li, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management, said: “In the light of these demographic trends, we see the need for an urgent review of the service provisions for the elderly.

“Steps should be taken to attract the younger generations to enter the elderly care professions and related sectors to enlarge the manpower pools. Measures should be implemented to bolster qualification and recognition of elderly carers,” he said. “And funding should be made available to employees who seek to obtain the necessary credentials, and also to qualified service providers and operators, to encourage them to train their new hires and incumbent employees in new skills.”

By 2030, the number of Singaporeans aged 65 years or older will increase to more than 900,000, just over double the current figures, according to the Singapore Ministry of Health’s Plan for Successful Aging.

Combined with a slowing birth rate, this means there will be fewer workers to support a growing number of seniors.

This rapid change in population will have far-reaching social and economic impacts and create challenges for businesses as they look for innovative ways to meet their labour needs.

The Singapore government is addressing some of these challenges through key changes to the Retirement and Re-Employment Act, which came into effect on July 1. The changes include raising the re-employment age from 65 to 67 and preventing employers from cutting their workers’ salaries when they turn 60.

Organisations need to harness the changing supply of workers to meet the challenges of a ‘talent crunch’, including women returning to the workforce, free agency workers and the silver workforce, said Tatiana Ohm, vice president and general manager – SEA, at outsourcing and consulting group KellyOCG.

“Continuing an older worker’s employment within an organisation could have a significant benefit to the both the employee and employer, especially in the face of a global talent shortage,” she said. “The silver workforce has a variety of unique skills and strengths and can assist in guiding or mentoring younger workers. Their years of personal and professional experience adds both tangible and intangible value to the organisation.”

Malaysia faces similar issues as, according to UN data, it is set to reach ‘ageing country’ status by 2030 – defined as 15 per cent of a country’s population being aged 60 or above. And by 2045, those aged 60 or above in Malaysia will be equal to the number of under-15s, “each group making up 20 per cent of the country’s total population,” Malaysia deputy minister for women, family and community development Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun has said, according to government news agency Bernama.

Awareness of the fact that Malaysia will be categorised an “aged” nation by 2030 is still “relatively low,” Malaysian Institute of Human Resource Management (MIHRM) deputy president Dr Henry Yeoh told People Management.

“The immediate impact of this ageing crisis is forcing the HR sector to retain retiring workers and prevent a potentially huge loss of knowledge to the workforce,” he added.

Thailand is another country in the region battling an ageing population, according to World Bank data. In 2016, 11 per cent of the Thai population (about 7.5 million people) were 65 years or older, compared to 5 per cent in 1995, Thailand Economic Monitor said in June 2016.

And by 2040, the economic consequences are likely to get worse, with 17 million Thais projected to be 65 years or older – more than a quarter of the population, the bank said. Together with China, Thailand has the highest share of elderly people of any developing country in East Asia and Asia Pacific.

Dr Yeoh urged the HR sector to proactively find solutions for this by “job redesigning for mature workers, childcare services and flexible working arrangements”.

There are a few “progressive and forward thinking organisations and practitioners” in Malaysia with a deliberate business strategy to accommodate the ageing workforce – either through recruitment behaviours, improved working environments or flexible working hours, he said, adding that a more concerted effort is needed.

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