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How SMEs can leverage on the talent of elderly employees

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Most employers would agree there is a shortage of labour in Hong Kong, most notably food and beverages (front line), IT (programming) and construction (interior decor workers) are having a hard time fulfilling their talent needs.

In the past, global MNCs such as HSBC have been pioneers in leveraging the talent of elderly employees. The bank launched the “smart senior” programme in 2010 to provide working opportunities for elderly people.

But now, more and more SMEs, (small and medium-sized enterprises) which account for about 46% of total employment in the city, are also exploring such opportunities.

Dr Teresa Chu, founding chairperson of Association of Retired Elderly (ARE), a social enterprise that specialises in matching elderly people with SME business owners, believes these seasoned veterans have much to offer.

The most popular jobs for retired people include administrative or management support, consultancy or advisory, and teaching or coaching.

“Elderly people have a wealth of business experience and business connections which makes them perfect business consultants,” she said.

“Leveraging on such experiences, ARE co-organises the Small Business Advancement Scheme and places retirees to help small businesses in writing business proposals to apply for funding from investors.”

More on the advantages of hiring elderly people, she said they are in general more stable, mature and loyal than young workers and have less intention to demand salary increments or promotions.

Despite these advantages, age discrimination, and employers under the impression that highly qualified elderly people are expensive to hire, remain the major challenges in matching retired people with the right jobs.

“The association organises regular seminars with employers to educate them about the opportunities of hiring retired people,” she said.

To help elderly people find the right job, the first step is to find out their reasons for them re-entering the workforce. There are people who were “unwilling/forced to retire”. This group has no or very little chance of being engaged again for the type and level of job position they were previously engaged in, and often their age is between 50 and 60.

Another category is the “willing/natural to retire” – they retire voluntarily or attain the retirement age normally applied to their jobs.

For the first category, the financial burden is the main reason for them to return to work, that is, they have insufficient retirement savings to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living.

For the second category, the common reason is to maintain self-esteem, recognition and confidence for keeping themselves young and energetic, and sometimes to kill time or a wish to contribute to society.

On the future talent market of Hong Kong, Dr Chu thinks the city will undergo a long process of accommodating retired people looking to re-enter the workforce.

“Some jobs will permanently be replaced by robots and people will move to other jobs that could create unique value to the economy of Hong Kong,” she said.

“During this process, HR management will experience an unsettled condition – acceleration of automation, continuing demand for benefits improvements, the creation of new types of jobs, and employing alternative measures such as unlocking the retirees’ workforce.”

ALSO READ: The golden oldies

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