S'pore silver gen workers 'untapped' IT gems

Country's ageing population as well as older workers' wealth of experience and better productivity makes them an asset, but companies should cater right environment for them to flourish, observers note.

Singapore's older generation, with their wealth of experience, deep domain knowledge and better productivity, represents an untapped human resource for the local IT industry to tap on. However, companies can do more to provide the right environment and conditions for these workers to tap on, one observer noted.

According to Andrew Milroy, vice president of ICT research for Asia-Pacific at Frost & Sullivan, Singapore has the characteristics of a "rich world country" such as an ageing population and people having fewer children to replace a shrinking local workforce, though not as extreme as the situation in Japan.

He added in his e-mail that many white-collar professionals in multinational companies (MNCs) are "very young", which makes the silver generation an "untapped resource" as they bring in their experience and IT know-how.

The number of local ICT professionals who are 50 years and above had rose from 6 percent in 2006 to 9 percent in 2010, according to figures from the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).

Work smarter, more productive
Mature Singaporeans are more experienced, able to work smarter and are usually more productive per hour compared with someone in his late-20s, said Milroy, adding that younger workers have to put in longer hours to learn the ropes due to their lack of experience.

This group of IT professionals can also fill shortages in key areas such as project management, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and infrastructure development and management--areas which the analyst noted is "back in fashion. Fewer young professionals, he noted, have such "top-notch skills".

Azzli Jamain, director of creative and professional services division at Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), agreed. He told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that older workers have deep domain knowledge and, equipped with ICT knowledge, can be tapped to create innovative products and services.

He also noted that the silver generation of workers has shown keenness to be IT entrepreneurs. With training in areas such as social media, cloud computing and technopreneurship, these people can go on to add value to their business ventures, Jamain stated.

One advocate for experienced workers is Lee May Ling, an executive at Singapore-based Computer Network Technologies. She noted that the younger generation of employees has no life experience or knowledge of how hardware and software have evolved over the years to today's newer versions or models.

"I've even faced some who do not know how to think logically when solving IT problems," she added.

Lee also noted that Generation Y employees have "bad work attitudes" and "do not know how to prioritize or sense job urgencies" when compared with the previous generation of workers. That said, she recognizes that work attitudes cannot be generalized simply based on age groups as she has also worked with exemplary Gen Y workers.

Training younger workers
Clement Goh, managing director at Equinix Singapore, added that companies which hire mature workers can tap on their accumulated industry experience and insights to plan company-level strategies for business growth.

These workers can also pass on their expertise to younger members of the company, he noted.

Loh Hung Chye, a software manager at Singapore-based Soft-Pro Computer, who is in his 50s, said that he had more experience in software development cycles and better analytical powers compared with his younger counterparts. "There are still a number of systems running on old technology that the younger generation cannot handle," he told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail.

This is why mature workers like him can provide mentorship and share their extensive experiences, Loh surmised.

Skills upgrading necessary
The converse is true, too, said Eng Check Sim, technical director of Soft-Pro Computer. He said that as a mature employee, he takes steps to be updated and keep up with the competitive IT market. He does so by reading up on the latest technologies and attending seminars from vendors such Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

Asked how the local government is helping to equip older workers with today's IT skills, Jamain said the WDA has introduced training programs such as the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) Systems, which are "practical, flexible, and affordable for all".

The agency has also appointed several education and training partners to deliver the training of specific IT skillsets ranging from software design and architecture to emerging areas such as cloud computing and service innovation, he noted.

The WDA director added that for cash-strapped workers, they can also tap on the Workforce Training Support (WTS) scheme--open to Singapore citizens aged 35 and above and earning S$1,700 (US$1,366) a month or less--for higher course fee support.

"[These schemes] provide opportunities for older low-wage workers to upgrade their skills through training, which might enhance their employability, increase their salary and provide incentives for employers to send them for training," Jamain said.

Create right environment
Milroy also called on Singapore companies to make themselves more attractive to older workers. He said that with this group of workers, work-life balance is important and organizations here are not catering to them in this aspect currently.

Doing so could have positive long-term economic outcomes, too, he pointed out.

"Keep mature workers in employment as long as possible so that they can [earn] more to support themselves for the rest of their lives," urged Milroy. Should the silver generation leave the workforce earlier, Singapore will end up having a smaller pool of people to support the elderly, he added.