The Old Youth Speaks

I’ve mentioned it in a previous posting and I’ll happily say it again, but of all the “isms” that we have, ageism is probably one of the worst. Racism and Sexism are good at grabbing headlines. It’s been especially so since the current Occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania got himself plonked into the Oval Office and we got a range of news headlines relating to those “isms.” Nobody seems interested in “ageism,” particularly when so much of the world’s attention is focused on the two Septuagenarians battling for the Oval Office.

However, as any job seeker will tell you, ageism is particularly rife and here in Singapore. To put it crudely, people after a certain age (In Singapore it’s around 35) are unlikely to get a job if they lose their current one. The situation has gotten so bad that it has taken one of our more senior and popular politicians to get out and announce that “Nobody is too old to be hired.” Yet, the problem persists. Just visit any food joint and you’ll notice that the staff are inevitably over 45. When I grew up in the UK, I understood the job at the fast food joint was what you did as a student so that you had a few extra bucks. Here in the “Land of Asian Values and Filial Piety,” working in a fast food joint is what you do when you’re too old to run around because no one else will hire you.

When I got hired by the liquidator in 2014 (my 40th birthday) everyone told me that I had to stick onto it because it was the only job, I was likely to ever have. I was 40 and had worked mainly freelance for most of my working life and nobody was rushing to hire someone with my track record. So, I held on for five years in an industry that required me to have the one thing I refused to have – paper qualifications and regulation. In the five years of working in an accounting practice, the only job offer I received was from Burger King, which I ignored because, well they wanted me to work exclusively for them, which would have meant I’d be stuck with them for the rest of my working life.

Sure, I get that employers want young and impressionable fresh graduates that they can mold. Old Farts like me can be expensive. We’ve been round the block a few times and we’re a little less likely to get conned. When I had my first agency job, working 24/7 was all about learning the ropes and part and parcel of laying the ground work if you wanted to succeed in life. At 40, when you’re required to work 24/7 all the time, you start to question if you’re working for someone who is obsessed with being inefficient and hates productivity. The only way you’re likely to accept doing this at 40 and dare I say 50 is because you’re paid a criminal amount of money. At 20, you accept things like “sacrifice” for the company and job as being good for you and your future. At 40, it’s a different story.

Yet, if I take myself as an example, I have to question why old farts like me should become less employable. May be its because Covid-19 and the circuit breaker changed my lifestyle but I am healthier than when I was in my thirties. Just take a look at me eight years ago when I was on my first holiday in Vietnam. In the words of my mother “Your tummy is enormous.”

By contrast, I am significantly lighter at 46 than when I was at 38 and I feel better for it. While I had significantly less responsibilities then, I actually feel more energetic and a little more confident about taking on the world. Here’s me at 46.

Incidentally, my situation is not a freaky one. I work in an office where the only other person who could last more than five minutes on an escalator is three weeks older than me. Back when I was in my last agency job (Bang PR in 2005), my main director used to make the point that he was significantly older but at the same time healthier.

So, the question stands – if our aging population (ie people like me) are healthier than ever before, why is it so difficult for us to get a job.

I put it down to employers having a “feudal” mindset. They still want employers who will “fit in” and stay with them for years. They still want employees that can be molded into a certain image and are dependent on the employer to provide a livelihood. I can understand this mindset and it worked well for so long. It’s like the weird obsession with the office and all the gatherings that people have. In this frame of mind, you worry that the person over 40 may not fit into your cog.

While this may have been the case in the industrial revolution, we need to understand that we are no longer in that era. I hate this mindset that in order for the economy to function you need lots of people whom you can work for long hours and for cheap, which was precisely the argument that everyone used when it was suggested that foreign workers should not live in conditions that caused disease.

You have a growing population of over 40s. They have skills and the capability of doing work. Sure, if you can’t give them the same full-time job, outsource things to them. May be its less money but it’s better than nothing at all and you can let them find other paymasters concurrently. You have an army of growing and still capable people. Why can’t you find a way of using them? Surely that would help productivity.


Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.





9 Responses to “The Old Youth Speaks”

  • Harder Truths:

    Wait until you are 65 or 70. The only person who will call you for coffee is the undertaker.

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  • xoxo:

    dont worry,mr HENG will come to your RE$cue with $100 billion???
    but,you got to wait long long.

    he is not interested to help people like you?

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    Funny how office jobs are filled by mostly women = shake legs jobs. Women are sexist and like to hire other women and shake legs together. Gossip and eat snacks during office hour. They expect the men to be out and running. Last time the school clerk comes in at 99 am. Sits till 12pm. Goes out for lunch. Back at 1 pm. Sits on her fat ass till 4.50pm. Goes for a piss and then exit office at 5pm.

    Whereas the elderly of both sexes (frail or not) work in more physical positions.

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  • Ageism:

    Ageism is probably one of the worst here.Correct.
    Worst for those above 60.

    No matter how qualified or suitable for the job,you can be sure that the HR will never called you even for a interview.

    Sad but true.

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  • many complex ism:

    //However, as any job seeker will tell you, ageism is particularly rife and here in Singapore. To put it crudely, people after a certain age (In Singapore it’s around 35) are unlikely to get a job if they lose their current one.//

    when the no of people (more so from white open-leg policy) > than the no of good living / paying wage (with no min wage hor) ? then of course, will have many many problems ??

    it fact, it does not take a genius to know that sinkie land is going to have many complex ism here-and-there problems going forward ? so many people already made noise in the past but the white idiots prefer their own talented ownself-talk-ownself-convince-ownself plus their interested jiak-sai experts / consultants; and now white idiots petend petend wanting to work with you when perhaps the damaging result may be very hard to reverse ????

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  • Sojoürner:

    Interesting article but it reports on the damage to older workers as if it were passively caused by some meteorological effect. No, age discrimination is rampant and has been practiced by employers with impunity for decades.

    I also belongs to one of those ‘TOO OLD TO HIRE, TOO YOUNG TO RETIRE’ category. Age discrimination is insidious and nearly impossible to prove. I’ve told young people – work as hard as you can and spend as little money as you can, because by the time you are 50 you will never find a good job – maybe any job – again. You will need everything you have saved, and more, during the rest of your life.

    The ‘experience premium’ is falling out of favor, but there is a very real and quantifiable distinction between the productivity of an experienced employee versus someone learning the job, or, more often, someone who believes they already know the job.. As an private equity consultant, I couldn’t disagree more. I love hiring someone around 50. They stick around. They have experience. They aren’t as fragile as today’s youth. They don’t get married and have new babies and change career plans. They generally are settled. In a nutshell, they are stable.

    If we want to talk about a seniority premium. One should look at a company that wants an employee group with a good age diversity. But younger employees have things going for them as well. Probably most importantly, they are better at adopting and adapting to technological innovations. They also have higher energy levels and are more open to change. And yes, they tend to cost less.

    Most companies would prefer to lay off a senior employee and replace them with an inexperienced one who knows a lot less and costs less. What the companies have yet to figure out is that they’d be better off if they asked a senior employee to shift to a three or four day work week and take a pay cut. That would be appealing to many senior level employees and more affordable to the companies. And if management doesn’t realize that most senior level employees actually can make a big difference. Getting a mix of both groups is beneficial for most companies.

    But the most important lesson of all: work for yourself; never depend on another for your prosperity.

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  • Alibaba & the 40 thievez:

    Feudal lord & his tribal chiefs conniving against the Republic by deceiving the people of goodwill and sacrificing innocents souls.

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  • Ageism:

    Ageism is a serious problem here.
    Singapore should make a more serious effort to tackle it.
    More so in this crisis environment.
    Many are suffering.

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  • PAP mandate strong:

    U mentioned ageism in Sg.

    Many countries facing same situation.

    U study japan, u study taiwan, u study korea ? u study China ?

    When uber setting up S Korea, many koreans taxi drivers protested. some taxi driver set himself on fire to protest.

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