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Working long past retirement age has become the new normal

In Quebec, there were close to 116,400 workers 65 and over in 2013. (stock.xchng)

In Quebec, there were close to 116,400 workers 65 and over in 2013. (stock.xchng)

By Peter Wheeland

If you think you’re seeing a lot more people over 50 in the Canadian workforce these days, it’s no mirage. Baby boomers are still having a major impact on the economy, the most significant of which is the rapid growth in the number of people working well past “retirement age.”

Like most things baby boomers touch, the change is far from subtle. In 1991, people 45 to 64 represented 28.4 per cent of the Canadian workforce. Twenty years later, that demographic cohort had ballooned to a record 42.4 per cent, a number that’s going to grow as the population ages and a greater proportion of seniors choose to remain in the workforce.

In Quebec, there were close to 116,400 workers 65 and over in 2013, compared with 78,900 just four years earlier. Of course, that portrait also has a flip side, as unemployment for that age group—looking strictly at people looking for work—jumped from 4,300 to 7,200 in the period.

There are several reasons workers decide to stay on the job.

The first is the desire to keep busy and keep the mind active. The simple enjoyment that comes from working is a big motivator.

With improvements in health care and increased longevity, many of today’s seniors are in much better shape than their peers were even a few decades ago. The average Canadian will live more than 20 years longer than someone born in 1926. That means people who retire at 65 might be looking at 15 years or more of getting on the nerves of their significant others.

Another factor, of course, is money. In a survey of its online readers conducted by the CARP seniors’ advocacy group, one-third of those who responded said they intended to work past 65, and 40 per cent of those cited money pressure as the main reason for continuing to supplement the pension with a paycheque.

It would be nice if all we had to do to remain in the workforce was to tell the boss to cancel our Freedom 65 party, but that’s not the case for many seniors. Layoffs, technological changes or, for manual labourers, the simple physical consequences of aging, are factors that can force mature workers back into an active search for employment.

Armed with decades of experience and a lifetime of knowledge, one would think it possible to walk confidently into the employment office and choose a job at the same pay level as the old one. But good luck with that. Although you might know how valuable you would be to a prospective employer, your age could play against you in the mind of people who do the actual hiring.

“Some employers actually look for  mature workers,” Alan Kearns says. (Tim Forbes)

“Some employers actually look for
mature workers,” Alan Kearns says. (Tim Forbes)

“Create, don’t wait.” That’s the message that Alan Kearns offers his clients at CareerJoy, a national firm that provides career and leadership coaching to Canadians of all ages.

“You have to create opportunity, you can’t wait for it.” The job market is tough for everyone, not just older workers, he says, so “you have to be creative in the way you approach it, no matter what age you are.”

In this technology-driven era, lots of job seekers are combing through websites and emailing their CVs to every potential employer they can find, but Kearns says it can be more productive to step back from the computer and instead get out into your community.

“Social networks, book clubs, fitness clubs, faith groups, the board of trade,” anything that gets you in contact with people who may have an inside track to your next job can be key to an effective job search strategy, he believes.

“It’s what I call the analog search, not the digital search. It’ll probably take you a bit longer and you’ll probably have to work harder at it, but you only need one person to see value in you, right? But it may take you 25 people to meet that one person.”

Attitude is another important consideration, he says. There’s no point worrying about whether anyone might think you’re too old. “You don’t have any control over what your age is or how it’s perceived, but you do have control over what actions you take.”

That could begin with a re-evaluation of what it is you have to offer. “What skill sets do I have and how do I market that to employers? You have to determine what (kind of work) you are looking for and then you have to think about a strategy of how to network.”

That may involve changing your expectations, both about the type of work you’ll be doing in the future and the pay that comes with it. “It might be unreasonable to think that I’m going to get another director-level job,” he says, using the example of a middle manager who finds himself out of work in his 50s. “So what are the other options I can think about?”

A common example these days can be found in many of the big-box hardware stores, where it’s not unusual to find experienced electricians or master plumbers who have given up their physically demanding jobs to become sage counsellors to the do-it-yourself crowd.

“Some employers actually look for mature workers,” Kearns notes, “particularly in certain sectors.”

Older employees “make some of the best workers out there,” he says. “We don’t really, truly value elders. But if you get a mature employee, they just have so much to offer and can be great mentors; they can really offer a lot of value.”

Above all, Kearns says, don’t be reluctant to take on some work that you might consider a step down. “It’s easy to discount things because they’re not what you expect. But you have to take advantage of every entry point.”

So an MBA may one day find herself doing the neighbour’s taxes, only to discover over tea that the neighbour’s daughter needs an accountant for her business.

If misperceptions about older workers sometimes act as a hurdle in the job search, Kearns says, “the way to overcome these perceptions is not on paper or on your resumé, it’s actually by meeting people.”

“Real estate workers say the three most important things are location, location, location. For the mature worker, it’s network, network, network.”

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