In praise of older workers

The new age is different. People are still planning for their future well into their 90's.
The new age is different. People are still planning for their future well into their 90’s.

By Cindy McKay

Several years ago, CARP dropped their full title — the Canadian Association of Retired Persons – and, retaining the acronym, adopted a new tag, New Vision of Ageing for Canada. This dynamic advocacy group is an association and Canadian,but they are far from representing the retired.
“It is no longer news that there is a major shift in the Western world, that people are living longer and staying involved,” Ross Mayott, the association’s vice-president and general manager told a recent meeting of the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce. “This is a positive thing. The trend of the last 10 years is predicted to continue for the next 10 to 15, and will shape our society for years to come.”

In Canada 30 years ago, there were 2.4 million people over the age of 65 which was about 9.8 per cent of the population, Mayott told the meeting. This year there are an estimated five million, which is about 14.5 per cent. That growth is going to continue. In the mid 1950s, the speaker continued, for every 5,000 Canadians under the age of 15, 1,000 Canadians were over age 65. Today, for every 5,000 people under age 15, 4,500 people are over 65. It is forecast that by 2016, the numbers will be equal.

“This becomes more than just a numbers game. A reinvention of the ‘new-old’ relationship has been set in motion which presents both challenges and opportunities,” Mayott suggested.

Under the old vision of ageing, once workers reached 65, their productive years were over. They were no longer needed in the workforce. People of retirement age were stigmatized. It was felt that their attitudes were set in stone and wouldn’t change. Retirees were expected to step aside and let younger generations take on their work. They were expected to relax, and enjoy being retired.

The new vision is different. People are still planning for their future well into their 90s. Many are open to new ideas and choices. “Continuing education in the upper ages is increasing because people want to remain part of a productive society,” explains Mayott. “Many are asking how they can still be involved and contribute. They are driving social change and changing the political climate.

Mayott predicts that the boomers will have a big influence on the health care system. The forecast that they’ll be an increased burden as they age might surprise many of them as this sector of society tends to take their health seriously. They are unwilling to accept bad outcomes and are more active in seeking second opinions and alternative health care options.

Several years ago, the Freedom 55 pitch had some appeal and many people were seduced by the early retirement vision. Then came the 2006 stock market crash and 2008 recession and many retirees realized they might not have enough money to live on for the next 30-plus years. It is estimated, Mayott said, that from 1997 to 2011 some 223,000 people over age 65 went back into the workforce. About 40 per cent of them were thought to be Freedom 55 retirees, and 72 per cent of these were concerned that they would have to reduce their living standards if they remained retired.

Within the last month, the media has taken a stab at the older worker model, branding it a “giant wave”, an “age quake” or a “silver tsunami”. But quakes and tsunamis are associated with destruction, and Mayott believes older workers contribute more to the workplace than this scenario suggests.

CARP today has about 300,000 members in more than 50 chapters across Canada. Under its New Vision of Aging label it is an advocacy group that helps mature workers overcome discrimination they might encounter in the job seeking process. Many older workers have said they feel intimidated in the interview process and by the inter-generational dynamics.

“The last thing society needs is a generational divide on one side or the other,” Mayott says. “It’s all about building relationships and we need to get young people involved. Employers and employees both benefit.”

Boomers bring a wealth of experience and a strong work ethic to the table, we’re invited to remember. They become role models for the younger generation. Organizations like Third Quarter and Skills Canada have become great resources for older workers needing help in re-entering the workforce. For more information visit thirdquarter.ca or skillsmanitoba.ca.

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