Reinventing oneself for the workforce by William Wan

                           The Straits Times 26 August 2019


Ageism is far from dead. To stay relevant in the workplace, seniors have to accept the technological disruptions, learn new skills and be resilient


With increased life expectancy and impending changes to the retirement age, the likelihood of working past one's 70s has increased.

Last Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the retirement age will be raised from 62 to 63 in 2022 and to 65 by 2030. In tandem, the re-employment age will go from 67 to 68 in 2022 and to 70 by 2030.

But it is a challenge to remain employable and re-employable in one's senior years as there may not be jobs for everyone who wishes to be employed.

It also cannot be assumed that ageism is dead and that all of us seniors will be given equal opportunities to work in the areas we are qualified in, notwithstanding our age.

To be prepared for the new non-traditional jobs created by the technological disruption, seniors must retool to adapt.

Unfortunately, most of us seniors are set in our ways and find change threatening. Many of us are unable to adapt quickly enough. Our learning capacity is shrinking due to memory loss and other age-related limitations.

In many cases, our new bosses are not much older than our own children. Taking orders and directions from younger people is not always easy for those of us who have been used to giving directions. It becomes even more difficult when younger bosses show little regard or respect for our experience.

Ageism is far from dead.

At 60, I was interviewed for a position where my skill-set is almost a perfect fit. The interviewers said so at the interview, but gave that job to a much younger person.

Recently, I asked a board member what happened and he said they thought I was "over-qualified", but the real reason was my age.

It is evident that the disruptive ethos is forcing us to live in a permanent state of transition. We need to adapt quickly or we will be made obsolete.

At 51, I had to make my way back to the legal profession after having left it for nearly 25 years.

I was considered too senior to be paid a junior's salary and too out of touch in a rapidly digital, paperless world of law practice to be deserving of a senior's pay.

I decided to strike out on my own, without pay, on the basis that "I would eat what I hunt". It meant that I have to prove myself still capable of being profitable before I got paid. Within eight months, I was made a senior partner.

When I turned 60,1 opted to leave the practice one more time to do something different.

I reinvented myself as a psychometric analyst by learning this complex and techno-driven system to become the managing director of a psychometric company.

At 64, I was asked to helm the Singapore Kindness Movement.

I quickly adapted to the art of leading a not-for-profit organisation where the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are totally different from what I was used to.

I wasted no time in learning to be social media savvy in the digitally driven world of online marketing and video casting.       '

So how do I reinvent myself? And what do I do right?

First, I reframe my thinking by recognising what has changed, accept the new reality and adapt to it.

It also means that I cannot insist on the old adage that I know more just because I have lived longer. I am hardly as tech-savvy as the young digital natives.

Second, I am positive and embrace the challenges of having to learn new skills.

Though my memory is not as good as when I was younger, I resist the idea that old dogs cannot learn new tricks.

It means I have to work harder and longer to get there, and I am willing.

Third, I am resilient. I mentally prepare myself to be rejected because of my age and I refuse to be devastated.

I am courageous and persistent and do not allow ageism to determine my self-worth.

And fourthly, I submit to the authority of those who are the contemporaries of my own children.

Organisational authority is not a function of age. It is a function of appointment by the powers that be and since I choose to work in that organisation, I willingly abide by its polity.

At 72, I am not retiring. The ability to adapt re-fires me. It helps me recognise and seize new and unknown possibilities for living a happier, healthier and more productive life.