More needs to be done to educate employers of value older workers bring says Mississauga Chapter Chair

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Click here to read ” Nurse Pauline leans in at 71-to redefine her retirement ” by Gail Johnson – The Globe and Mail, June 24, 2015

After a rewarding, decades-long career in health care, Pauline Deane never imagined that a process improvement model developed by a leading car manufacturer would be the thing to pull her out of retirement.

But when a former employer called the registered nurse to ask whether she’d be willing to pioneer Toyota’s world-renowned “lean production program” within various Vancouver health-care settings, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I was intrigued by the idea, and having never done anything like it before, I said yes,” Ms. Deane says in an interview over coffee. “I agreed to do a six-month pilot project, and I absolutely loved it.”

That was in 2007, a year after Ms. Deane had retired at age 61. The Liverpool native trained in Britain and later moved to North Vancouver with her former husband and two children. She worked in acute care and dialysis before becoming a home-care nurse for 23 years. Then she moved into management, ultimately overseeing the palliative care and oncology divisions of a local hospital for several years.

Her extensive nursing experience and hands-on management approach made her an ideal candidate to help introduce the lean model to health services in B.C. Also known as the Toyota Production System, the methodology is centred on continuous, incremental improvement of products, processes or services over time, with the aim of cutting waste and improving workplace productivity.

Along with three younger colleagues, Ms. Deane travelled to Michigan to learn about the lean model in a program offered by University of Michigan Health System and the College of Engineering.

As with so many other Canadians who find themselves working during retirement, her age and experience proved to be an asset.

“I think with the people I work with, I’m not viewed as old,” Ms. Deane says. “I’m viewed as knowledgeable. When I worked with the lean team, they viewed me as a mentor. They’re very respectful.

“What I really like about lean is that it’s about improving the front line; it’s driven from the bottom up,” she says. “I really like working with front-line staff and handling small improvements to make work life better.”

Working on that initial pilot project opened other doors for Ms. Deane. She helped to implement the process in other health-care settings throughout Greater Vancouver. Most recently, she took on the role of transition co-ordinator for the move of more than 80 dementia patients from one residential home to a new one on Vancouver Island. She even collaborated with architects throughout the building’s construction to help ensure an efficient workspace for staff and a positive living experience for residents.

Ms. Deane says that when she did retire, she was ready. She’d spent months writing down a list of the pros and cons of not working. Once she felt sure it was time to leave, she moved to Merritt and spent a year renovating a heritage home she’d purchased. She didn’t close the door on her career completely, though; she told former colleagues to keep her in mind if anything interesting came up.

She may be one of the fortunate ones who retired on her own terms, rather than being “let go,” a situation that leaves so many older Canadians with the difficult task of re-entering the work force.

To do that successfully, Tom Turpin, president of recruitment and staffing company Randstad Canada, says people at a later stage in life need to not only keep their skills current but also learn to highlight their strengths, including the value that their years of experience can bring to a company.

“Interviewing is a skill. Brushing up on those presentation skills is important: Do you know what your strengths are and can you present them effectively?”

While it’s vital that workplaces refresh their talent pool with younger workers, Mr. Turpin says mature workers bring qualities to a workplace that today’s young workers admire.

In fact, communication was cited as the most important quality in a leader among young workers surveyed by Ipsos Reid on behalf of Randstad Canada for its “From Y to Z Study.” Released earlier this year, the study found that younger generations want an open dialogue with managers, welcome a mentoring approach, and appreciate honesty, transparency and personal outreach.

“The interesting thing is that’s a bit of a circle back to the way older workers think. They place value on communication and mentorship, and older people in the work force are good at those,” Mr. Turpin says.

The value of older workers is the theme of a coming job fair and symposium being planned by the Canadian Association of Retired People’s Mississauga chapter. The region’s CARP chair, Murray Etherington, says the event pairs businesses looking to hire with older workers seeking full-time, part-time and seasonal opportunities or even intern and volunteer positions. While certain industries have proven keen on hiring mature workers – such as the financial services sector – he says the corporate world hasn’t been as open.

“One of things we’re going to be doing is educating corporations about the value of the older worker. Corporations can be much further ahead because these people have so much experience and knowledge that they’re real assets. Their skills can be used in new ways.”

Ms. Deane, now 71 and a grandmother of one, has been able to use her diverse skills in some surprising new ways. A painter in her spare time, she had observed during her various lean projects a process called “graphic recording” – an artist listens to someone speak then transcribes the information in visual images and “maps.”

What’s known as “patient journey mapping” is becoming a way for managers to understand how patients experience health-care services. Ms. Deane has gone on to draw the journeys of people navigating the health-care system to help identify how they could be improved.

In 2010, she also travelled to Rwanda where she volunteered for three weeks in a program for new mothers and babies. As for what comes next, Ms. Deane says anything is possible.

“I don’t want to work full time, but everything I’ve done has been very exciting,” she says. “It’s stimulating. It keeps me learning. I didn’t want to spend my retirement cooking or cleaning. It’s never been my interest to have a lovely home. I’m learning all the time, and everything’s new. I’m open to learning more.”