Solving HK's age-old problem |
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Solving HK's age-old problem

Published on Friday, 21 May 2010
Illustration: Bay Leung
Hong Kong’s ageing population and its low fertility rates mean the city faces critical challenges such as chronic shortages in professional talent. Hong Kong ranks second to Japan for an ageing population in Asia.
Photo: SCMP picture

Hong Kong's rapidly ageing population has been a major concern for some years. According to Shalini Mahtani, founder of Community Business, a Hong Kong-based non-profit organisation specialising in corporate social responsibility, it is a major challenge facing the city.

Over the years, the government has tried to encourage families to have three children, instead of two, as it did before. However, Hong Kong ranks second to Japan in Asia for its ageing population. More than 18 per cent of Hongkongers - from a population of more than 7 million - are above 60 and the median age is 41.7 years.

Mahtani says the problem stems from longer life expectancy thanks to advances in medicine and better health care services in the city. Hong Kong's low fertility rate is also another key factor affecting its population structure. A recent Community Business research revealed that the Asian corporate sector is slow in responding to the challenges of an ageing workforce.

Mahtani suggests companies conduct age-profile analyses, which typically examine issues such as turnover rates, leave of absence and various personnel trends and needs, and then compare them across age groups.

"The earlier the company has this information, the better equipped it will be to address the problem of an ageing workforce," she says. According to Mahtani, another good practice is to have an age-neutral or age-diverse recruitment policy to employ and retain older staff in the workplace.

The Community Business research, which looked at the characteristics of ageing populations on the mainland, India, Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong, warned that Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore - with the highest life expectancies and lowest fertility rates in the region - were facing critical challenges such as chronic shortages in professional talent.

Lily Cheng, marketing manager at Ambition, a global recruitment specialist, says the private sector has been reluctant to formalise strategies to solve the problem.

"Dealing with an [ageing] workforce is still an alien concept in Asia. But some big corporations, such as HSBC, have already launched pilot schemes to [address this issue]," Cheng says. She stresses that specialist knowledge and experience are the most valuable qualifications companies look for when they hire older staff.

HSBC recently launched the "Smart Seniors" programme by hiring retirees to man some of the bank's services. External affairs manager Eliza Wong says the bank will continue to monitor the scheme.

Willy Kwong, of the Community Development Initiative, a think tank, says older staff can bring many benefits to the workplace because of their experience. "The reality is that not only are workers ageing, but consumers are too. We need to address these issues and raising the retirement age is a good start," Kwong says.

Grey area

  •  Introduce flexible retirement policies
  • Launch pilot schemes to test policies and programmes to attract older staff
  • Conduct age-profile analyses
  • Ensure that policies and processes are age-neutral and that the firm does not encourage discrimination
  • Encourage an age-friendly office culture by offering alternative working arrangements for older staff


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