National Seniors Council: Older Workers at Risk of Withdrawing from the Labour Force or Becoming Unemployed

Employers’ views on how to retain and attract older workers

The National Seniors Council (NSC) released a report this past summer on older workers, titled Older Workers at Risk of Withdrawing from the Labour Force or Becoming Unemployed: Employers’ views on how to retain and attract older workers. The council found that most employers worry about labour shortages but are unwilling to make changes that will help recruit and retain older workers. Instead, employers are relying on government to implement programs and policies to encourage older worker workplace engagement.

Although the Council identified certain more “at-risk” older workers as individuals needing most help, employers emphasized that help for all older workers will also help those in most need. As a result, the report recommends a comprehensive strategy that applies to all older workers wanting to stay engaged in the workforce.

Looking specifically at “at-risk seniors”

In anticipation of the challenges of labour force shortages and reduced economic growth, the NSC was tasked to consult employers on how to retain and attract older workers, specifically those who are most at risk of withdrawing from the labour force or becoming unemployed.  These  “at risk” older workers are defined by the NSC as those who are displaced either due to a layoff, plant closuring or downsizing, those with chronic, prolonged or episodic illness, injuries, mental health issues, or disabilities, those with low-skills and low literacy, recent immigrants and aboriginal, and those with family caregiving responsibilities. The NSC points out that “at risk” older workers face particular challenges and barriers to workplace engagement such as lack of low skill levels, lack of self-esteem and confidence to find a new job, inability or reluctance to relocate, difficulty obtaining flexible work arrangements and workplace accommodations, and discrimination/stigma in the workplace.

Employers do not differentiate “at-risk” older workers

Although the NSC distinguishes “at risk” older workers from older workers in general, employers do not make this distinction. Instead, employers defined their business as being at-risk if older workers and workers in general were to leave their companies.  As a result, the NSC’s consultation and discussions with employers on improving older worker engagement were broadened to include all older workers and not just those who are defined to be “at risk.”

Employers are doing very little encourage older worker’s participation

Employers are doing very little to encourage older worker’s participation, despite their awareness of the current and upcoming labour shortages and their ability to actively address the barriers and challenges faced by older workers. The National Seniors’ Council found that most employers do not have programs or policies targeted to engaging and retaining older workers or have initiatives to support older workers, and most were not ready to discuss how they plan to address this need. Although there were a few examples of employers who are making special efforts to recruit older workers, most are looking to government action and policies that target the involvement of older workers.

The National Seniors Council’s Recommendations

The National Senior Council repeatedly heard from employers that what benefits all older workers will benefit most at-risk older workers. As a result, the Council recommends that the federal government develop a more comprehensive national workforce aging strategy with the following strategies:

  1. Raise Awareness of and Recognize the Value and Benefits of Encouraging the Active Participation of Older Workers
    – work in partnership with provinces, territories, and networks of employers and stakeholders to do an awareness campaign to highlight the value of older workers
  2. Build on the successes of federal programs and initiative  that support and encourage older workers’ participation in the workforce
    – extend and expand the Targeted Initiative for Older Workers (TIOW) program and ThirdQuarter Project
    – add a “older worker friend” lens in existing federal job bank and job placement initiatives, such as promote the benefits of hiring and retaining older workers and intergenerational learning in the workplace
  3. Engage employers in planning for the aging workforce
    – work collaboratively with other levels of government, employers, unions, and professional networks to promote workplace policies and practices that meet the needs of an aging labour force, such as updating collective agreements to include older workers, work with insurance and benefit providers to develop workplace health initiatives that support ongoing engagement of older workers, and develop employer assistance programs to help older workers cope with and balance caregiving responsibilities.

Changes need to be made for all older workers

CARP also believes that what will help older workers will help those at-risk. Employment challenges are not exclusive to those “at risk”, as the National Seniors Council defines. Most, if not all, older workers will need flexibility to care for family member, accommodations to deal with health issues, or a phased-out retirement arrangement to meet their financial needs. And although employers need older workers to meet labour shortages and their business needs, it is a disappointing that many are unwilling to do anything about it. As a result, governments may need to play a larger role and create more effective levers to encourage employers to recruit and retain older workers.

Read the National Seniors Council’s report in full.

Read CARP’s brief on Older Workers.