Millennials Will be the Ultimate Losers in a Growing Generational Divide
Cover image from Linkedin.

Suppose I am due for a promotion and somebody 20 to 30 years my senior is occupying that position. How should my company value meritocracy and avoid being accused of discriminating older employees at the same time?

Would my senior colleague be willing to vacate the position, or would he or she take offence at being asked to step aside or down even?

This dilemma, if it becomes a nationwide trend, could widen the divide between the young and old, as pointed out by Prof Chan Heng Chee, ambassador-at-large, at Mondays Singapore Perspectives conference organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS).

The cause of concern fundamentally stems from the assumption that senior workers still harbour career aspirations and are unwilling to let go of what they already have, especially if they are in a comfortable well-paying position.

Prof Chan Heng Chee speaking at Singapore Perspectives 2018. (Photo courtesy of IPS)
Then there is also the question of how an increased push in using technology to complement the skills of older workers could deprive younger Singaporeans of job opportunities a point raised by a student from Raffles Girls School.

Amongst the flurry of questions raised by the more senior members of the audience concerned about the state of their welfare, it introduced some balance to the ongoing discussion on how the elderly should be looked after.

In response to the students question, Prof Chan said that the government has been very mindful about technology potentially taking away the allocation of jobs for young people for the sake of keeping old people employed.

But in the spirit of building a more inclusive and compassionate society, perhaps the elderly should also be realistic about their expectations of how they should be treated in their old age.

While it would be considered discriminatory if capable older employees were let go in favour of cheaper, younger workers, it would also be unfair if younger workers had their career and personal development stunted simply because older employees above them were unwilling to budge.

(Photo from Vulcan Post)
The global economy today is vastly different than the one our seniors built in the late 90s and early 2000s. Job-hopping and entrepreneurship are the new normal in the Singaprean career path, and the elderly cannot expect young Singaporeans to work one job for their entire lives and wait for their turn to rise.

In truth, our generation stands to lose the most as we grow older. A declining fertility rate and further tightening of immigration laws would only lead to a shrinking of the countrys workforce in the next few decades, leading to much of the economic burden falling on the shoulders of our generation, the new bulk of the labour force.

Tax increases are also likely to be a constant for decades to come, to generate a constant supply of revenue that will fund policies to look after the elderly. Just yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah pre-empted that healthcare expenditure to support seniors would be a big item in the upcoming Budget on Feb 19.

A situation where rising taxes for the welfare of the baby boomers and Generation X is not met equally with an increase in wages would most certainly fuel discontent among my generation and the next. We shouldnt be scraping hard at the bottom of the food chain so that our seniors could retire in condominiums instead of nursing homes.

Furthermore, what would be the point of meritocracy a cornerstone of Singapores society and economy if the interests of the elderly stand in the way of personal and career growth.

Already, Japan our closest neighbour facing an even worse ageing problem has been grappling with a generational rift. Youth in the country feel even more underappreciated and suffocated in a hierarchical society that has become even more rigid and conservative, , the New York Times reported in 2011.

This has led to the undesirable outcome in which the country is holding back and marginalising its youth, at a time when it actually needs them to help create the new products, companies and industries that a mature economy requires to grow.

There is a feeling among young generations that no matter how hard we try, we cant get ahead, writes Japanese careers consultant Shigeyuki Jo in his book The Truth of Intergenerational Inequalities. Every avenue seems to be blocked, like were butting our heads against a wall.

Young job seekers at a career fair in Japan. (Photo from NYT)
Singapore, with a mere population of 5.6 million, simply cannot afford to fall into the same trap. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had already warned of the dangers four years ago.

Yet here we are still struggling to find the right balance between grooming a more dynamic workforce and helping seniors retire.

Majority of Singaporeans may believe that the responsibility of looking after older people lies with their family and the Government, according to an IPS poll. But even so, seniors should realise that the world doesnt revolve around them.  

If societal attitudes do not shift, then we can only hope that the machines would rise to do the jobs that we do not want to do, and help us change grandpas diapers. Or perhaps, human cloning could soon become a reality, and we could easily build our workforce.

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