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Ageism is a form of discrimination

Article by Jacqueline Arnold @ TwentyTwo13 (13 November 2023)

October was supposed to be a very exciting month. I was stoked.

Our public relations (PR) consultancy was launching our Sustainability Practice programme. Coincidentally, a friend highlighted a programme specifically for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), called “The Sustainability Reporting Process”, scheduled for early November.

The programme was going to cover sustainability reporting, stakeholder engagement, and materiality assessment and value chain. Perfect timing! Or so I thought.

I had the rudest shock of my life a week before the programme, when I was informed via WhatsApp by the organisers, “… regarding the Sustainability Reporting Process programme, we are sorry because unfortunately, your registration has been rejected by the Human Resource Development Corporation (HRDC), due to age. Only 60 years below (sic) can register for fully funded programme.”

I mean, I’ve never thought of myself as old. I keep fit, I’m in better shape than most (regardless of age), I run my own company, and put in the same hours I’ve worked my entire 42 years of working life. Age has never once factored into any conversation I have ever had with anyone (including the conversations with myself in my head).

My first reaction to the WhatsApp message was shock (what?!), followed by indignation (how dare they!) and then, just plain sadness. Why sadness? I was, and still am, sad at the ignorance of the organisers who are tasked with supporting the SME sector.

Are they unaware that a significant number of SMEs are owned and run by those who started the business themselves from scratch and who are very likely in the early 60s age group. Hence the need to educate them and get them to buy into Sustainability – the latest business success factor.

SMEs are the engine of Malaysia’s economy. Malaysian SMEs export to many developed nations, all of which will soon be requiring imported materials that meet Sustainability specifications.

I actually wasn’t going to write about this incident; until a couple of days ago when I read a news article about the National Human Capital Conference and Exhibition (NHCCE) 2023.

At the opening ceremony of the conference, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong said, “For Malaysia to remain strong and competitive in future, our workforce and talent must be encouraged and make lifelong learning and continuous personal development a priority”.

I’m a firm believer in lifelong learning and continuous personal development, which is why I wanted to attend that programme on Sustainability.

In the meantime, earlier in October, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry announced that it’s targeting to create more Senior Citizens Activity Centres (PAWE) nationwide, depending on the elderly population in the particular area, in facing the challenges of an Ageing Nation by 2030. The deputy minister, Raj Munni Sabu, was quoted as saying, “Indirectly, the establishment of more PAWE can reduce the admission and dependence of senior citizens on charitable organisations”. I say, keep seniors gainfully occupied and employed, and that would reduce the number requiring aid.

What has all this got to do with PR, you may ask? Well, PR is all about key messaging. So, the Human Resources Ministry, the Human Resource Development Corporation (HRDC) and the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry ought to sit down together to get their objectives and key messages aligned.

Has it occurred to anyone, that if we keep the over 60s gainfully employed, they will also most likely be more active, more independent, and less in need of aid. There are studies which show that being physically and mentally active keeps people healthy.

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