Tuesday 14 May 2013

Public sector taps mature staff for contract work

Older workers attracted by flexibility, better work-life balance of such jobs
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 13 May 2013

AFTER two years of travelling and sightseeing following her retirement, Madam Fan Shih Mee, 58, decided she wanted to work again.

"If I don't get back to work, I will be bored at home," said the former legal secretary who has a 34-year-old son.

Madam Fan, who retired in 2008, found a two-year temporary job at the Ministry of Manpower soon after starting her job search in 2011. She is now on a six-month contract doing data processing for the Household Expenditure Survey, which is conducted every five years.

Like Madam Fan, more older workers and back-to-work women are taking up contract positions in the public sector, as more government agencies warm up to the idea of hiring mature staff.

Recruitment agency BGC Group - which helps public agencies fill positions - placed 334 workers aged over 50 in temporary government jobs last year, almost triple the 122 older workers it matched with jobs the year before.

Public agencies used to prefer younger workers for contract positions, said Ms Joyce Goh, division director of the BGC Group, which has been working with the public sector for the past five years.

In the past few years, however, they have increasingly turned to older workers - be it retirees or those who lost their jobs - and back-to-work women for their temporary manpower needs.

These mature workers were hired for a range of positions, such as carrying out large-scale household surveys, providing administrative and finance services, and helping with projects such as the Our Singapore Conversation public engagement exercise.

Of the government agencies, Ms Goh said: "A lot of them are gradually opening up to hiring retirees and homemakers.

"In the past, they would want students or fresh graduates."

Older workers, she pointed out, tend to be more experienced and "are seen as more reliable when it comes to accountability and responsibility".

BGC is one of three employment agencies appointed by Vital last June to handle temporary recruitment for 13 public bodies, including ministries and statutory boards. Vital, which is under the Ministry of Finance, centralises corporate services across the public sector.

Since last June, the three recruiters have placed 510 staff, of whom almost a quarter are aged above 50, in jobs.

Ms Goh said older workers are likely to be attracted by the "stability and prospects of greater work-life balance generally perceived of the public sector". Contract work is also attractive as it provides more flexibility, she added.

Indeed, Madam Fan said she plans to go travelling again once her contract ends in September.

Madam Leo Mei Gee, 54, who is also doing data processing for the Household Expenditure Survey, said she does not mind that the position is temporary.

"At my age, whether it is permanent or not isn't important to me. What is important to me is having work to do," said Madam Leo, who gave tuition for a few years before deciding to look for a contract job. Her contract ends in November.

For its part, BGC Group has stepped up efforts to recruit older workers. After noticing that more were attracted by word-of-mouth recommendations than online job postings or advertisements, it introduced a referral scheme. For every candidate referred to the recruitment firm, existing workers can get movie tickets, supermarket vouchers or mall vouchers.

Ms Goh said: "Word-of- mouth is very powerful among this group."

Centralised recruitment offers economies of scale
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 13 May 2013

VITAL, a department under the Ministry of Finance, centralises corporate services across public agencies to reap economies of scale. These services range from finance and payroll to travel management and training.

Last June, Vital moved to centralise recruitment for temporary positions as well, and it appointed three recruitment companies - BGC Group, People Advantage and Business Edge - to do so.

Before this, it had provided recruitment services on an ad hoc basis, with only a handful of public agencies requesting such help. But under the new centralised contract, 13 public bodies - including both ministries and statutory boards - have come on board so far.

The jobs offered range from administrative roles to working on projects such as the Our Singapore Conversation exercise.

"Since many public agencies provide such work opportunities, it makes sense to run a master contract instead of having every agency do its own contracts," said Vital's director of operations Wong Wai Mun.

"This is especially true for the smaller agencies, which may not have economies of scale, and improves government efficiency."

There are 16 ministries and more than 50 statutory boards in the public sector, and Vital hopes that more will tap the recruitment agencies it has appointed.

By aggregating manpower demand across agencies, "Vital hopes to reap cheaper costs and higher efficiency", said Mr Wong.

A critical mass of demand allows Vital to negotiate better corporate rates with employment agencies, while a central pool of candidates should make job-matching more efficient.

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