Part-time work past 65: A necessary reality for Jim

Click here to read this article, published in The Globe and Mail on February 2, 2015. 

Approaching 70, Jim Gough is once again living in the lakeside home in Orillia, Ont., where he and his family spent some of their happiest moments. “I was a kid here,” he said. “I have friends here I’ve known all my life.”

Mr. Gough has come full circle after a marriage breakup almost a decade ago. A long-time information technology worker, he left a London, Ont., job in the sector to move north to the family lakeside property, knowing full well that he would need to take up a new line of work to supplement his reduced income.
For almost nine years he has been employed part-time at Home Depot, where he works with many other older workers. The company, he said, “is one of the very few that don’t discriminate on the basis of age. One of the guys I work with is 80. Another is a retired electrician. He’s 73.”
The physical aspect of his part-time sales associate position in the electrical department has been “a learning experience,” he said. “You are on your feet eight hours a day. I used to spend eight hours a day on my butt.”
Most of those hours were in IT departments supporting the head offices of various Canadian firms. With a diploma in business administration, including a major in business computer systems, Mr. Gough started working in Internet technology right after graduating in 1968 from what was then Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.
By 2000, however, the kind of job stability he had experienced for almost 30 years was no longer easy to find.
After working for 3M Canada Inc. for 17 years in London, and later at Toronto-based CGI Group Inc., where he dealt with Y2K computer glitches, he was downsized. Meanwhile, the search for skilled Y2K programmers gave birth to a massive international move toward off-shoring of IT jobs. Then the dot-com industry took a nosedive.
“It was a great field, but it all fell apart when Y2K ended, the dot-coms collapsed, and worldwide computer sales dropped,” he said. “No one expected to get hit with three strikes in two years. And it was a field that was always short of people. Pick up any newspaper in the ’90s, and there were three or four pages of jobs for IT people.”
As a result of such job instability, Mr. Gough has no company pension. He relies on payouts from the government’s Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security pension; his 3M pension money was put into a Life Investment Fund, or LIF, on which he draws annually. In the past, during periods of unemployment, he has been obliged to dip into his RRSPs.
When Mr. Gough first started at Home Depot, the company gave him some training. “I didn’t know much about electrical,” he admitted, “so I learned a lot along the way. I work with a retired electrician and have learned a great deal from him. And yet he’s hopeless on a computer, so I help him with that.”
“But the real training,” he added, “is when you’re on the floor dealing with a customer. I’d always worked in the head office, and never had to go and approach customers. So approaching them, striking up a conversation and interacting with them was new.”
While Mr. Gough’s current supervisor is 26 years his junior, he said working for a boss who is much younger than him and his peers is no big deal. “We’ve gotten used to it.”
The supervisors themselves “probably have more difficulty with it than we do. Do you ever think you might be supervising someone like your dad some day? Most people weren’t raised to tell older people what to do.”
In his spare time, Mr. Gough also oversees his local chapter of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons. “We have a small board, and can always use more volunteers. But I really enjoy working with the folks I work with.”
According to CARP’s vice-president of advocacy, Susan Eng, there are many association members who find themselves in the same boat as Mr. Gough.
“A lot of our members do not have a workplace pension,” she said. “Even among those who do, unless they were in government or a unionized environment, their average pension is not that much.”
For older or retired workers, however, just finding a job can be a challenge. “Employers as a group have not indicated that they value having older workers,” Ms. Eng said. Hiring procedures can put them at a disadvantage, for example, as online job applications often do not capture the extent of their experiences and knowledge.
“There’s no room in the form to say something like, ‘I brought in business,’ or ‘I brought in international accounts,’” she pointed out. On the other hand, “it’s easier for employers to screen them out, to look at the year they got their certification, for example.”
Like Mr. Gough, who would prefer full-time hours, many of CARP’s working membership are picking up only part-time employment. “The figures from StatsCan don’t differentiate between full- and part-time. But what we get in terms of anecdotes, not science, is that it is all part-time, and that people are happy to have them,” Ms. Eng said.
While Mr. Gough enjoys meeting new people and the sense of camaraderie he shares with his colleagues at the Home Depot, he worries about his future.
Neither his father, nor his grandfather made it to 70, he said, “so in some ways, you find yourself living longer than you ever imagined you would. If I get to a point where I’ve got to stay at home, who’s going to support me? When there’s no spouse, that other half isn’t there to cover when you’re sick.”
Yet, while he has been through some tough times in the past, Mr. Gough takes comfort in his return to the family’s lakeside property. With its stunning views of Lake Simcoe, his daughters, he joked, “say they’ll kill me if I ever sell it.”