'Employing older workers is one of the organisation's successful workforce strategies'

With calls for a higher retirement age in Singapore, SBS Transit sees success with veteran employees

'Employing older workers is one of the organisation's successful workforce strategies'

According to a new survey, a majority of Singaporeans aged 50 and above support raising the re-employment and retirement ages.

Nearly 90% of Singaporeans and permanent residents aged 50 and above support a retirement age of 63 years and higher, while 80% support an official re-employment age of 68 and above, according to the National Trades Union Congress U Women and Family, and the PAP Seniors Group (PAPSG).

But one major employer in the city-state says it’s been an “industry lead player” in providing fulfilling career opportunities for mature workers for a number of years - SBS Transit Rail.

“We have been an industry lead player in embracing sustainable workforce and hiring matured workers,” says Sherin Ng, assistant vice-president HR.

“Employing older workers is one of the organisation’s successful workforce strategies.”

SBS Transit is Singapore’s bus and rail operator and employs over 10,000 people, with nearly a quarter of those employed in rail.

Retirement age way past national standard

“While the national standard for retirement is 63, SBS Transit long ago placed our retirement age way past the national standard. We are at 67 for official retirement age for our workers,” she said.

“For those employees who make qualifying eligible criteria under the re-employment act, we actually do have a re-employment term contract, even beyond 67 for another year.”

SBS Transit “consistently” engages with the union to see how it can best support the workers to offer meaningful employment, said Ng.

“We recognise that veteran employees in the railway industry are appreciated in terms of the institutional knowledge as well as the ability to mentor the younger workforce.”

Mature workers are able to cascade their learnings to the next generation, she said.

“There're a lot of benefits, from a business development perspective, retention, a happy and harmonious workforce, very healthy industrial relations, tripartite relationship and a very good understanding with the regulators. We're able to give a lot of constructive feedback from our years of experience, and feedback from the ground is really very immense.”

Age not a limiting factor to hiring

The organisation attracts a variety of candidates, said Ng, right through from school graduates and mid-careerists to retirees from other industries with a lower retirement age.

“We're looking for really passionate individuals rather than using age as the limiting factor,” she said.

Harnessing advances in technology has enabled a broader range of roles to be kept open for older workers – for instance, automation in train inspection duties has enabled the organisation to redeploy mature workers to less strenuous roles, while retaining their knowledge and expertise within the company.

There is also great emphasis on supporting workers to enable long careers in the “railway ecosystem” through training and career development, including collaborations with institutes of higher learning – regardless of age – to get themselves future ready, said Ng.

The company has many long-serving employees, with a significant number with over 30 years of service, and some who now have children working within the organisation too.

Ng also commends the organisation’s approach to inclusive hiring. “We recognize people with disabilities will be able to contribute meaningfully to our industry. They are just as competent in their field of work; we include them in our employee festive celebratory events, and they are with us along the way in this entire journey.”

It’s about taking a multi-pronged approach, she said.

“From young to the old, from the able to the disabled in terms of our workforce sustainability and growth strategy for our land transport, this helps in the retention and stability of the organization.”

Strong HR culture at SBS Transit

As an HR professional, Ng said she finds her role significantly rewarding.

 “It’s not just the nature of the work I’ve been attracted to, but in terms of the culture, how we invest in our people and take care of their families by ensuring that our employees get a meaningful career with us. Also, ensuring they are remunerated fairly and in a timely way and making sure everyone goes home safe and sound – it gives assurance that we have got their back every time they go out to work.”

With Singapore marking the HR professional this week, Ng says there is a very strong HR culture and respect for the function within SBS Transit and she’s proud to be part of such an inclusive organisation.

“HR practitioners bring significant and material value-add, she says. “This ranges from driving organisational change, business transformation and employee experience to forging strong industrial relations.

“HR contributes to business sustainability in attracting talent into the company and ensuring they are well looked after at the various touchpoints… We should recognise that HR is a change agent and that we can make a difference supporting employees while contributing to organisational transformation.”

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