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Ageing society

Search no more: Skilled retirees seeking fulfilling jobs get a leg up with Hong Kong start-up

Company founder creates online platform to connect white-collar retirees with work in their area of expertise after seeing mum’s difficulty in finding relevant positions

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 July, 2017, 4:24pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 July, 2017, 8:19pm

Hong Kong digital marketer Priyanka Gothi watched her mother struggle with forced retirement after decades working as a school teacher in India.

“She is one of the most active people that I know; you can’t pin her down in one place, you literally have to take stuff away from her,” Gothi said.

“[My family] thought [retirement] would be a good break for her, but that’s not how she [saw] it.”

At 60 years old, Gothi’s mother considered herself to be a perfectly capable and intelligent person who was still able to contribute to society.

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Her daughter set out to find her a job to keep her busy, but she was surprised to find that many positions available for retirees were mostly related to manual labour, clerical work, or customer service – endeavours which white-collar retirees consider mundane.

“The overall assumption is that a senior person cannot do much more, which made me question the whole definition of retirement,” Gothi said.

Her mother’s situation, coupled with the demographic shift in Hong Kong and the unfulfilling work on offer for retirees, prompted Gothi to establish a start-up to connect retirees with the types of jobs “that would make the most of their skills and experience”.

Her company, Retired Not Out, provides an online platform for retired professionals to be placed in a part-time job that fits their skill set. The start-up actively engages companies to hire retirees, explaining to them the value of hiring people with decades of knowledge.

The first retirement age was set at 70 years, established in 1889 by Prussian minister president Otto von Bismarck in an effort to quell pressure from socialists who wanted the government to take better care of its people.

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But it came with a catch. The retirement age was closely aligned with average life expectancy in Germany – most people then did not live long enough to enjoy their pensions.

A century later, life expectancies have increased dramatically, while retirement ages have decreased to between 55 and 65.

Hong Kong has one of the longest life expectancies in the world: the average lifespan for men is 81 years, while women live to 87 years.

The government projects that by 2064, 33 per cent of Hong Kong’s residents will be 65 and above. Together with a low birth rate, the city will see a massive labour shortage.

Former Labour Party legislator Lee Cheuk-yan agreed that some retirees want to continue working and contribute to society, but laws were needed to stop age discrimination and forced retirement by companies.

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“With an [increasing] elderly population, there needs to be more workers ... but they are forced to retire so early,” he said, pointing out that some companies force employees to retire at 55.

“If insurance companies refuse to cover [retirees] then there can be no possibility for them to continue working, and this is a problem that can be tackled either by age discrimination law or a particular law governing insurance companies where they should not refuse coverage on the basis of age.”

Gothi believes a review over how Hong Kong deals with its elderly white-collar workers is needed.

Her start-up also provides training for retirees who wish to upgrade their skills, which also acts as a confidence builder.

In a study conducted by the company, Gothi was surprised to see that money was not a top consideration for white-collar professionals who wanted to continue working.

“Money was the fourth thing in their priority; the first was area of interest – ‘it should be close to what I’m looking to do’,” she said.

The company’s success stories include a case of a retired statistics professor who was placed with a company to do actuary work – a job which fit his skill set.