The widely-held belief that recruiting increasing numbers of ‘digital natives’ – those who grew up in the age of the internet – is the best solution to the disruption caused by technological developments has been challenged.

Instead, HR specialists in the tech-innovation driven economies of Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia believe that an older, more experienced workforce might actually be more beneficial to organisations mastering the challenges of digital development.

And while east Asia is as prone to ‘digital disruption’ as other regions, with its taxi drivers threatened by Uber or office workers feeling uneasy over job security due to automation, older professionals can up-skill to become digitally savvy, say experts. They are not only capable of responding to disruption, they might even create some of their own.

A recent briefing by recruitment agency Hays pointed out that while digital natives can grasp and make sense of the changes around them, older professionals have the experience that allows decisions to be made and can then deliver on agreed outcomes. Companies, it said, need both.

According to Hays, when an organisation prioritises a diverse workforce – comprising younger digital natives as well as experienced professionals in their 40s, 50s and 60s from various industries – it builds a team that will bring knowledge from diverse backgrounds to the challenges it faces.

Lavanya Ullas, Singapore-based associate director with ChapmanCG, an executive search firm dedicated to the HR profession, argued that older employees know how long change takes and have developed the resilience to survive through it.

“The benefit of creating a flexible work environment that includes older employees is that it breeds diversity – and diversity is the cornerstone of innovation,” Ullas told People Management.

“All organisations need this, and they should create mentor programmes, if they don’t already have them, with a focus on the mentorship going both ways,” she added. Ullas emphasised that the only way to remain in demand, as an employee, is to be constantly learning.

Indeed, the Singapore government is doing its homework in order to guarantee its workforce’s employability in the future. In 2015, the Singapore Ministry of Manpower rolled out a SkillsFuture programme of training to drive a culture of lifelong learning. The idea is for participants to keep picking up industry-relevant technical skills and essential generic skills throughout their working life.

Since its implementation, the number of sectors covered has doubled to 28, with more than 1,200 polytechnic and institute of technical education (ITE) graduates having benefited.

Meanwhile, Singapore’s Professional Conversion Programmes (PCP) aim to make more mid-career professionals fit for new jobs in the professional services sector, covering architecture and engineering, accountancy, consulting, advertising and marketing, design, legal and head office services.

The city-state’s Ministry for Manpower sees growing opportunities for Singaporean companies in the professional services sector amid an increase in regional demand for such services.

There are more than 10 PCPs operating in Singapore’s professional services industry so far, and 160 people were trained by them between January and October this year. Approximately 40 per cent of participants were professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) aged 40 and over.

The trainees are initially hired by or placed with participating companies, and receive subsidised IP training. The programme shoulders up to 90 per cent of a monthly salary, capped at SGD6,000 per month (US$4,400) for Singaporeans 40 and over, or Singaporeans who have been unemployed and actively seeking employment for six months or more.

Second minister for manpower, Josephine Teo, told a seminar on attracting talent for the professional services sector in October that disruption in business models also creates the need for consultancy services.

She noted that companies in the sector value older and experienced employees. “When you are approaching and dealing with clients, to be able to present from among your talent someone with experience, who has worked on many different types of projects and has breadth and depth to bring to the table, is actually a plus,” Teo explained.

May Wah Chan, director with Michael Page Malaysia, said that what most older employees need is to know where there are open opportunities available and to get themselves actively searching within the job market as soon as possible.

“While counselling and training can help to a certain extent, what employees also need in such situations to ease their transition further is assistance from external sources,” Chan said.

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