South Korea’s shrinking workforce has a potential solution: the country’s older workers. Sixty per cent of those aged between 55 and 79 are currently working, according to a survey by Statistics Korea. That translates to more than 9.3 million people. This marks the highest rate of labour force participation among this segment of society since relevant statistics were first collected in 2005, said a report by Korea JoongAng Daily on Sunday.

The older labour population has climbed about 60 per cent from 2013, the survey said. Based on the current rate, the number of older workers is expected to surpass 10 million in 2024. The increase is largely due to a growing number of baby boomers – born between 1946 and 1964 – entering the older adult demographic. The rise in economic activity among this group can be attributed to physically healthier people with higher life expectancies, and an increase in economic concerns such as living costs, Korea JoongAng Daily said. Quoting the survey, it added that the older workers are mostly employed in jobs that require little or no experience and training, or consist of routine tasks.

The survey also found a greater number of older women wanting to work in the future. In 2011, 47.8 per cent of women in this age group wanted to work. In 2021, that figure went up to 60.3 per cent. For men, the corresponding proportions were 74 per cent in 2011 and 77.3 per cent in 2021. One reason for this is the change in the socio-economic realities for older women, according to Professor Kim Young-sun at the Graduate School of East-West Medical Science at Kyung Hee University. They have “different educational backgrounds, incomes, and economic and social status than in the past”, the professor said.

And these newcomers can help to alleviate a labour shortage caused by South Korea’s declining population, Prof Kim said, because “raising the birth rate takes a long time”. To this end, the researchers who conducted the survey said initiatives are required to take into consideration the supply and profile of older workers. These include expanding customised support programmes for older women and flexible work arrangements, said Mr Ahn Jun-ki, who conducted the study and is a researcher at South Korea’s national employment information service.

South Korea is the world’s fastest ageing society and has the lowest fertility rate in the world. As at 2022, the average number of children a South Korean woman gave birth to hit a record low of 0.78. In June 2023, the country increased to 30,000 its annual quota of bringing in skilled foreign workers. In 2022, that number was 2,000. South Korea had initially planned to cap the 2023 quota at 5,000. This year’s increase will be the largest by far, the South Korean authorities said, adding that it should help shortages in a range of industries such as manufacturing and agriculture. Since its introduction, the annual quota has gradually risen from 300 in 2017.

The Straits Times


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