The employability of older workers

A choice about when to retire based on ability— not age – is a human right.

If we as a society honoured the maturity and wisdom of age, there would be no hesitation in giving Canadians a choice about when to retire. As CARP pointed out to Ottawa’s Expert Panel on Older Workers, such choice based on ability, not on age is a human right.

The reality is that we live in a youth-oriented society instead of a society for all ages. Demographic silos pitted age groupings against each other, especially in the workplace.

Although many provinces and territories have eradicated mandatory retirement, seniors who want to, or have to work still face this obstacle in parts of our country. For example, this is the case in federally regulated industries such as banking, communications and transportation.

CARP does not believe in mandatory employment. In fact, CARP promotes in the “carrot” of incentives rather than the “stick” of enforcement to engage older workers. When they are part of the labour force, the economy and government coffers benefit as well as the individual. Not only do older workers pay taxes, they put money back into the economy by spending on goods and services which, of course, stimulates productivity.

Canadians are living longer, healthier and more actively than ever before. Clearly for many of them the loss of meaningful activity, along with low income and social isolation, can contribute to physical and mental conditions. Working helps maintain quality of life and independence for them.

However, the mindset of employers, older workers and other employees must change if we are to dispel myths and attitudes about age that have taken on a life of their own.

What a mistake and a waste to buy into ageist stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination! Older people are not necessarily frail, slow or sick. They are able to learn new information and skills. In fact, they bring with them life experience, work expertise, commitment and a passion for life long learning. To quote former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Anan, “the whole world stands to gain from an empowered older generation, with the potential to make tremendous contributions to the development process and to the work of building more productive, peaceful, and sustainable societies.”

This dynamic must be nurtured for the benefit of individuals, the workplace and society. Matching the skills of older Canadians with the jobs that have to be filled in a broad and creative manner is the way to go — for example, recognizing that a person can apply a skill set in one field to quite another field. Of course, this requires vision, imagination and thinking outside the box.

Some jobs can and should draw on non-professional experience such as the skills implicit in homemaking or a trade that has been a hobby, like carpentry, cooking, artwork or volunteer activity.

Among those who are frail, either physically or mentally, many are still capable of activity, even if at times limited. For example, they can work from home with modern means of technology and communication. Their contribution can still be significant – for employers and for themselves. If call centres for Canadian services can be located in India, and they are, as we know, then workers can be stationed in their own homes.