HOW CAN ONE SUPPORT
" Be an Open-minded Employer "
Where to Start
As the population of silver-hair population in Hong Kong expands over the years, we must seek to turn this demographic trend into an opportunity. While economic growth is not assured, the ratio of working-age people to older people falling sharply is a concrete and imminent fact. We must make allowance for older people who want to work have the right and opportunity for re-employment, whether it is a continuance of their pre-retirement career path or not. Offering working opportunities to this segment of our population as long as they are able and willing would enhance their self-sufficiency, offer self-esteem, minimize the medical costs and reduce social alienation. They could continue their well-deserved role as Actors of our Economic Development.
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Hong Kong, with its rapidly aging population and increasing number of smaller households, is facing an acute challenge in labor shortage. The predicted reduction in the size of the labor force from 2018 is also of concern. With fewer people working, the strain on health-care costs and social benefit funding will be on those who are still working in the business community. For those who wish to work beyond the retirement age (while it has been gradually extended on a year-to-year basis), we must embrace a more flexible way of working to maximize experience without affecting young people’s upward mobility. This social problem cannot simply be solved by our government alone. The business sector is very much a partner and a key stakeholder of our community.
Despite that there is a need and individual desire for them to get involved in the community in order to make an engaging and positive social impact to the society, there is simply not enough job-related information around available to this growing segment of the population.
While it is not uncommon for employers (retail, F&B and elderly care industry in particular) looking out for an extra pair of hands to lessen the manpower pressure in better serving their customers, there is no direct channel in linking those who wants to get back to the working society and employers who are willing to try. Apart from the mismatched skills set and attitude towards more fundamental work nature and salary level, the mindset of accepting silver-hair workers and offering them a second career at a much lower echelon of the working hierarchy has to be tuned in order to make this work.
Simply put, companies are running out of workers AND customers. On the other hand, the typical 65-year-old today is roughly as healthy as a 58-year-old was four decades ago and can thus work longer. As they say, 60 is now the new 50.
The so-called silver tsunami will not only drain our medical resources but more importantly the escalating cost of caring for the elderly given the shrinking of the working population in the years to come.
A market’s long-term “potential” growth rate depends on two things: the number of workers, and how productive they are. Slower population growth directly chips away at the number of workers. The long-range structural factors: the aging baby boomers would start retiring, the number of working women would level off, young adults would stay in school longer, and some unskilled workers will bow out. Probably the most promising way to cope with an aging population is to encourage today’s workers to work longer. This has already been proven in Japan where 22% of those over 65 works compared with 18% in the US. Furthermore, 8% of those working in the US are contingent workforce, meaning agency temps and on-call workers like Uber drivers. As the saying goes, the young can run faster but the old know the shortcuts. We have to change our view from “anti-aging” to “smart aging”.
For lower-skilled jobs, a Legco briefing paper indicated there were around 1,000 vacancies among 8,100 non-professional frontline care work positions in care homes in 2012. It is imperative to liberate the “young” retirees to care for the older ones.
We need to face reality. Aging populations mean aging workforces. So society and governments need to start preparing themselves. Armed with a wealth of experiences, elderly folk are a great asset to a company. We should begin creating a working environment that is friendly to senior citizens. Flexibility is the key, with variable working hours and locations to fit their needs. We should also provide training to improve/upgrade skills and knowledge.