“I am capable of handling the front office better than any trained receptionist”, he announced confidently. Standing behind the stack of books piled on his desk, 76 year old Mr. GT Arasu was not one to be apologetic about his age. Working in the front office of Hatti Kaapi for over three years, Mr. Arasu says that out of all the jobs he’s had, this one is his favourite. He then quickly corrects himself, “second favourite”, the first being when he worked for Bharat Electronics Limited, way back in 1970.
While Mr. Arasu managed to find a job he’s happy working at, there are several elders whose search for employment remains unfulfilled. With daily advancements in the field of medical science, life expectancy has increased. However, the mandated retirement age is still 60 in most states. This, despite there being several people above the age of 60 in the country who are willing to, and fully capable of, continuing work. In India, only 10% of the retired work force gets monetary compensation in the form of pension from the government, and others are forced to live on their savings, which are often exhausted too soon.
Recognizing this need for employment that existed among the elderly, Nightingales Medical Trust set up the Nightingale Empowerment Foundation in Bangalore, Karnataka. Under this foundation they launched the ‘Jobs 60+’ program, which is aimed at enabling retired elders re-enter the job market. An initiative that began in 2011, they are now all geared up to host yet another job fair exclusively for senior citizens on Sunday, the 26th of March, this year. Hosting job fairs is just a part of what they do. They also run a free job portal for senior citizens to connect with prospective employers, as well as provide training in skills deemed essential to re-enter the job market. “It is important for elders to be employed not just to ensure their financial independence but also to raise their self-esteem. We were often approached by elders, not asking for any sort of charity, but simply looking to be employed. This is when we decided that we must begin this program.” said Mr. S. Premkumar Raja, co-founder, Nightingales Medical Trust.
Starting this program was not without its challenges. In a bustling urban city so focused on creating employment opportunities for its youth, the question of jobs for the elderly is one that is rarely raised. One of the biggest challenges that arises in such a situation is finding a cost-effective method to create awareness about the program. Without awareness there is a lack of funding, and being a non-profit organization, funding is crucial to carry the program forward. “Advertising was an expensive method so we needed to find alternate ways to create awareness” said Mr. Raja. “We knew that the media would only talk about something if it was unique and we needed to do something innovative that would catch their attention. So we held a job fair for the elderly, something that hadn’t been done before in India”, he added. As anticipated, the job fair was covered by several leading newspapers in India which went a long way in creating awareness about the program. This was the first of the four job fairs that have since been held, each proving more successful than the last.
However, the battle was far from won, as the new challenge arose of convincing organizations and companies that elderly job seekers would be a valuable additions to their business. “Organizations were initially very reluctant to hire elders as they believed that they did not have the skills required for present day jobs, and were ill-equipped especially when it came to software and computer skills. So we decided we would first provide them with training in these skills to ensure they were re-employable in today’s market”, said Mr. Raja. Nightingale Empowerment Foundation not only organizes training workshops in computer skills such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and Tally, but also conducts career counselling to ensure the elders find a job that they would be able to derive value from, along with showcasing their strengths. Mr. Suresh Babu, a beneficiary of the program, was impressed by the individual care and attention given to each elder under the Empowerment Foundation. “What appealed to me is the extreme care and attention given to senior citizens while training them and discussing with them about jobs” he said. He now works as a manager at Ansal Krsna Apartments and no longer has to rely on his savings. Retired Col. Francis Xavier who never had the need for a PC in his career thus far, found the computer training program very useful. “As far as I am concerned, it was the right time for me to undergo the computer training at Job 60+. The course has given me the correct exposure at the right time to start my second innings” Today, he is working as an Assistant General Manager, and says that he is able to stand confidently among his colleagues. The current cost is Rs.1000 for the entire training program. Noticing a dearth in the number of women participating in the program, the foundation offers the training package completely free for women.
Companies that were initially hesitant to hire elders soon turned into regular employers when they noticed some of the unique benefits they brought to their job. Companies like Hatti Kaapi, GS Sons, Damask, and Kotak Mahindra have hired elderly employees through Nightingale Empowerment Foundation time and time again as Accountants, Supervisors or Facility Managers, to name a few. Having over 50 outlets dispersed across various locations in Bangalore, Hatti Kaapi has employed many people like Mr. Arasu through Nightingale Empowerment Foundation. “We aren’t doing them any favours, they’re just as valuable to us as younger employees”, said Mr. Sampath Kumar, Head of Administration at Hatti Kaapi, immediately dispelling any assumption that this is some sort of charity work. Having recruited over 60 senior citizens through Nightingale Empowerment Foundation in the past three years, he says that they bring a fresh perspective to the company. “One major differentiating quality that they have that the millennials lack is that of discipline”, he says. “They come to office on time every day and one can be sure that any work given to them will get done without delay.” Talking about their work ethics, he adds, “They are very meticulous about their work and check everything down to the last detail, which makes them perfect for jobs such as accounting.” Nevertheless, he acknowledges that it wasn’t all smooth sailing, saying that initially it took some time for the youth in the company to be accepting of the elders. “The elders liked to spend a lot of time ensuring a job was done perfectly and this sometimes made the youth impatient, this took a little getting used to”, he admitted. “But they eventually settled into a pattern and now work well together”, he added.
So far, the Foundation has been able to help over 811 elders in procuring part-time or full time jobs through their employment exchange and hope to scale up this initiative to other parts of the country soon. “While this is still a pilot program in Bangalore and we’re yet to achieve the levels of success we need to take this to a larger platform, we are slowly getting there and hope to take this to other parts of India soon by collaborating with others”, said Mr. Raja. There are several hurdles that stand in the way of expanding such a program. While the number of senior citizens looking for jobs is increasing by the day, the opportunities for them to work are far from growing at the same rate. Convincing companies to hire elders is only half the battle. Often, elders accept a job imagining that they would still hold the position they held before retirement but soon realize that now they have to settle for less and soon end up leaving. These hurdles stand in the way of expanding the program and taking it to new cities across India where there is a dire need for the employment of elders.
Other countries that are also bearing witness to the same issue have adopted different methods to accommodate this. While countries like Brazil use a pay-as-you-go social security system, Singapore has focused on bringing retirees back into the workforce. They have successfully managed to acquire an employment rate of 66% for those between the ages on 55 and 64. Further, the government plans to change the official retirement age to 67 by 2018. Other countries, like South Korea, Germany and the U.K are working on the same.
While different people may have different methods to do it, it is clear that the movement towards empowering elders is something everyone is thinking about. It comes not only from the governments and organizations worldwide, but also from the elders themselves. An increasing number of elders today are standing up and saying, “I’m old and that’s not a disability”.
Author: Ms. Aarathi Ajit
Note: Nightingales Jobs 60+, an initiative of Nightingale Empowerment Foundation (NEF) – promoted by Nightingales Medical Trust, in Association with Karnataka Vocational and Skill Development Corporation Ltd., is organizing a Job Fair for Elders on Sunday, 26th March 2017 at Nalapad Pavilion, Gate No.5, Palace Grounds, Bangalore from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
Senior Citizens in the age group of 60 – 70 years, physically fit and in need of financial security are encouraged to participate in this fair with 5 copies of CVs and 2 passport size photographs. Employers who are willing to employ these able senior citizens are also invited to participate in the fair. This is entirely a free service.