Income losses due to the pandemic have led more Canadians to postpone retirement, bringing new attention to the value of older workers.
“I think there’s a lot of untapped potential amongst older workers,” says Rafael Gomez, a professor specializing in employment relations and director of the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources at the University of Toronto.
A September survey for the Canadian Institute of Actuaries found that nearly one-quarter of Canadians (23 percent) say COVID-19 impacted their timeline for retirement. Sixty-nine percent said they will work longer because they need the income.
Similarly, an October study by the National Institute on Ageing at Ryerson University found that 75 percent of Canadian aged 45 years and older say the pandemic has made them more concerned about their family’s financial security and well-being.
If the pandemic has a consolation, it’s that older workers with financial challenges might get a deserved chance. Gomez says that on average, people become more employable as they get older because of experience.
“Someone in their 50s, they’re still paying off a mortgage, they still have kids that they can get through college, and so on. They’re the ones that are overlooked the most, and they have the most to give,” he told The Epoch Times.
“Are companies realizing this? I think finally maybe now, because of the shortages in labour, because of the difficulty in finding skilled people.”
The Canadian Institute of Actuaries study found that nearly half of non-retirees (43 percent) reported earning less household income due to the pandemic. And for those among the Gen Z, born in 1997 or later, that percentage was 58 percent. Gomez says older workers have something in common with this generation.
“The most flexible worker is actually at the later end of their working age and at the very young end. People in their 30s and 40s are actually much less flexible because they have kids that are tied to local schools.”
He says older workers tend to have better people skills, and innovative companies are welcoming their experience even if their perspectives may challenge existing corporate cultures.
“Young workers just are less dependable, they’re more likely to be absent, they’re more likely to use their time ineffectively at the job—that’s just a part of growing up and gaining experience. So the manager’s job is tied up in watching over what we call ‘agency costs,’” Gomez explained.
“You have none of those concerns with someone who’s 50. They’ll show up, they’re dependable, they’re not going to leave and find another job. … So you have this sort of free time as a manager to be more creative, to strategize, to do the hard work of building your company.”
Statistics Canada had reported a trend toward seniors’ employment before the pandemic, in 2017. The 2015 census showed that nearly 1.1 million Canadians aged 65 and older worked for at least part of the year in 2015, almost double the percentage in 1995. These workers tend to be male, live in rural areas, have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and lack private retirement income.
Brian Giesbrecht retired from the bench as a Manitoba judge at the age of 58 to pursue other interests, including writing. Now 72, Giesbrecht was recruited by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy more than five years ago and is now a senior policy fellow.
“You don’t have the energy you do when you’re younger, that’s just a fact of life. But at the same time, we have made a lot of mistakes [to learn from],” he said with a chuckle.
“You’ve put lot of them behind you [and] figured a few things out and have a better idea of how you want to spend your time.”
Giesbrecht said a “contractual model” is a better arrangement than a “9-to-5” job for some older workers. He has seen some in this situation excel with new jobs later in life while others being unable to carry their experience forward into new successes.
“There’s pluses and minuses for the employer. You’re getting somebody who’s probably not as easily mouldable. But at the same time, you’re getting somebody with a lot of life experience. And again, maybe we’ll save that employer a lot of problems that he might have had with a younger person. It probably evens out.”