Report on the Labour Force Participation of Seniors and Near Seniors, and Intergenerational Relations

Suggestions for Action

From October 2010 to March 2011, the National Seniors Council held various consultations with stakeholders from across Canada, including seniors; representatives of seniors organizations; academic experts; research organizations; employers; sector councils; unions; and others,Footnote 36 to listen their perspectives on the two priorities. Throughout this process the Council heard about the barriers inhibiting the labour force participation of seniors and near seniors and positive intergenerational relations, and various ideas for policy solutions that could work to break down these barriers. From the information collected during this consultation process, the Council developed the following suggestions for federal government action.

Enabling Labour Force Participation

While the Council heard that many older workers wish, or need, to remain engaged in, or re-enter, the labour force beyond the average age of retirement, it was also heard that many seniors and near seniors are not able to stay active in the labour force due to the existence of various barriers. It was determined that a focus should be placed on removing disincentives and developing supports that encourage continued labour force participation while allowing flexibility to address individual needs and responsibilities. A range of strategies were proposed in order to address barriers and support those seniors and near seniors who wish to engage in the labour force.

It is important to note that participants cautioned against the development employment supports geared only towards seniors and near seniors. Various other age groups, including youth, experience challenges obtaining meaningful employment, and it was therefore recommended that job-matching programming should be made available to all Canadians.

Employment Programs

Seniors and near seniors need to have access to appropriate tools in order to seek meaningful employment matched to individual skill sets. Participants suggested that a national job database, such as Service Canada’s Job Bank, coupled with an online service to match older workers and employers based on individual skills, interests, and needs, would represent an effective tool. Employment programs should also include job search assistance that encourages workers to look outside their previous industry and occupation. This would enable many older workers who might otherwise leave the labour force to earn acceptable wages and gain new occupational and industry experience.Footnote 37 

There currently exist various exemplary programs and initiatives both within Canada and abroad that serve to help older workers find meaningful employment.

The Targeted Initiative for Older Workers is a federal provincial/territorial cost shared initiative that provides employment assistance services and employability improvement activities to unemployed older workers in cities and towns that have a population of 250,000 or less; and are experiencing ongoing high unemployment; and/or have a high reliance on a single industry affected by downsizing or closures.

With funding from the Government of Canada, the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce has developed a pilot project called ThirdQuarter. This program features a unique job-search website that serves to help employers find experienced employees who are 50-plus and want to delay or change their retirement by engaging in the workforce. The program is unique in its emphasis on employee skills and values, rather than occupations, to ensure a better match between individual and employer needs. This skills-based approach seems to be successful as firms are reporting being matched with qualified candidates. An online approach to connecting older workers and firms also seems to be effective, as over 2500 individuals and more than 1200 firms are currently registered in the program. Since its inception in May 2010, more than 900 jobs have been posted, and 46% of these postings have resulted in someone being hired.Footnote 38 

The Government of Canada recently announced the future launch of an approach that will gather critical information and make it available through its Working in Canada website so that Canadians have a clearer picture of who in Canada is hiring and what skills they will need to have, or train for. This initiative is based on the premise that better information will help Canadians find jobs and make the right learning and career choices.

Finally, on the international front, the Government of Australia has developed a package of programs to support the labour market participation of mature workers through its Experience+ initiative. Among other supports, the programs feature free and accessible employment planning and résumé appraisal services for workers aged 45 and over, as well as job transition support for mature workers in the construction and manufacturing sectors who are looking to bridge into less physically demanding jobs.Footnote 39 

Lifelong Learning and Re-training

Participants identified continuous learning as an important means of updating skills to maintain performance, as well as a way of developing the knowledge and competencies that can be applied to a new job. Re-training is especially important for those who are not physically able to continue working in their current capacity, and those who are employed in physically demanding jobs. However, successful re-training and career transition programs are associated with such high costs that many employers and employment agencies struggle to provide these services, forcing older employees to absorb the costs of their continued education and training.

The Council heard that training programs need to be accessible, relevant and applicable to real job requirements. Good examples include job-shadowing, co-op, or mentoring programs that allow workers to develop practical experience on the job. While participants agreed that seniors and near seniors should be able to engage in the learning or training program of their choice, it was cautioned that programs should be designed to complement the skills shortages that will be seen in the labour market.

Finally, participants noted that re-training is not always a requirement in order to remain engaged in the labour force or begin on a new career path. Many seniors and near seniors are highly knowledgeable and experienced and possess developed skills that are transferable across occupations. Training initiatives can be costly and do not always offer maximal benefit to the student. They therefore need to be targeted towards individuals and sectors or professions that require them, and need to have clear objectives that are matched to the skills required by the respective profession. Participants warned that aimless training without an end goal of meaningful employment is a waste of resources.

Many provinces currently offer training supports via federal Labour Market Development Agreements (LMDAs) and Labour Market Agreements (LMAs) with provinces and territories. Through LMDAs, the Government of Canada invests $1.95 billion annually in programs for unemployed Canadians. This funding enables provinces and territories to design, deliver and manage skills and employment programs primarily for those who are eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) benefits. LMAs provide funding for provincial and territorial labour market programs and services, particularly for low-skilled workers and unemployed persons who are not eligible for EI benefits. The Government of Canada also offers a Lifelong Learning Plan that allows individuals to withdraw amounts from RRSPs to finance training or education.

The Public Service Commission in Nova Scotia has developed a unique Diversity Talent Pool that is aimed at increasing the representation of members of designated groups within the workforce. The Pool consists of résumés of pre-screened, qualified candidates in the designated groups that are seeking casual, short-term positions in the provincial government. Short-term placements provide members of the Pool with the opportunity to gain valuable work experience and upgrade their skill sets. Participants recommended that a program such as this be developed on a national scale and geared towards seniors and near seniors.

Age-Friendly Workplaces

The overall work environment, including human resource practices; employer and co-worker attitudes and behaviours; and physical working conditions, impact older workers’ level of job satisfaction, and thus, their work-retirement decisions. In particular, the flexibility of human resource practices appears to weigh heavily on these decisions. A recent survey of older workers conducted by Statistics Canada found that around two thirds of older workers would be willing to continue working if they were offered a flexible work arrangement.Footnote 40 Flexible working options include examples such as compressed work weeks; phased retirement; teleworking options; and self-funded leave programs.Footnote 41 Participants indicated that these options allow older workers to remain engaged in meaningful employment while providing flexibility to pursue other interests, activities, or responsibilities outside of work. They may also serve as a means to retain informal caregivers as they provide the opportunity to effectively balance care obligations and time at work.Footnote 42 Ideally, care leave should take into account the episodic nature of illnesses, deterioration or improvement in health condition or changes in the availability of formal care. Using leave on a part-time basis, or returning to work part-time might also be helpful to accommodate the changing needs of caregivers. Other forms of flexible work might be more suitable for caregivers who need to vary their hours on a weekly basis or who do not want to cut down on their working hours but need to work flexibly.Footnote 43 

Aside from human resource practices, many participants indicated that discrimination against older workers is a barrier to employment that persists. Incorrect perceptions regarding the productivity, motivation or trainability of older workers can prevent employers from investing in older workers. Similarly, these unfounded stereotypes can cause older workers to lose confidence in their own skills and knowledge, or in the benefits of investing in the training that is required to maintain or enhance their future employment prospects.Footnote 44 Participants therefore recommended that corporate initiatives be developed that focus on encouraging multi-generational understanding, integration and cooperation within the workplace. This could be achieved through education and awareness of differences and how managers and employees can best address these differences. It was also indicated that there is a role for human resource teams in terms of encouraging good intergenerational working relationships in the workforce.

Finally, poor physical design and layout of the work environment were identified as barriers to the labour force participation of seniors and near seniors. Inaccessible and poorly adapted workspaces can inhibit seniors’ ability to perform their job. Age-friendly work environments and practices include such things as accessible washrooms; adequate workspace lighting; materials available in large print; large screen computer monitors; telephones with amplified audio systems; ergonomic workspaces; anti-fatigue flooring; sit-stand workstations; health check-ups at work; and employee stress level evaluations.

Measures such as these have been shown to reduce health-related absences, increase employee satisfaction, and may also work to prevent early retirement.Footnote 45,Footnote 46 

Engaging Employers

Employers have the power to address many of the barriers and challenges that older workers face. Examples of initiatives some employers have adopted include the modification of corporate human resource practices to allow for flexible working arrangements; the implementation of phased retirement schemes; and the provision of specialized training or mentoring programs. While survey data suggests that organizations are concerned about their aging workforce, most have not yet targeted specific programs and policies to their mature workers.Footnote 47,Footnote 48 

In order to enable employers to adopt initiatives for their older workers, participants indicated that they need to be provided with information and resources that relay what successful strategies exist to retain and recruit older workers, and how they can be implemented. It was indicated that governments could be responsible for identifying best-practices and creative low-cost strategies, and for communicating how successful programs can be adopted by all Canadian employers.

A Workforce Aging Strategy

The Council believes that a comprehensive and coordinated policy strategy, similar to that recently devised by the Government of Alberta, would represent an optimal way to tackle the diverse challenges faced by those seniors and near seniors who wish to participate in the labour force. Alberta’s action plan is one geared towards engaging all partners, including employers, industry leaders, training providers, and individual workers, to develop supports for hiring and retaining mature workers.Footnote 49 The action plan is built around four goals, including engaging employers, supporting mature workers, promoting active aging, and promoting a supportive policy environment. The action plan further acknowledges that retirement is a social value that has to be respected; that there is little research evidence dictating what strategies are effective in supporting, retaining, and recruiting mature workers; and that policy and program planning needs to benefit a multi-generational and diverse workforce.

The plan sets out to achieve its goals through several identified priority actions, including the development of tools to support succession planning, recruitment, development and retention of older workers, and age-friendly work environments; strategies to raise awareness of the need to develop mature worker strategies and share best practices; provision of employment and career services to mature workers; work with partners to raise public awareness of programs geared towards mature workers; and raising awareness of the value and importance of lifelong learning.

Suggestion for Action

The Government could develop and implement a comprehensive workforce aging strategy.

A workforce aging strategy could include the following initiatives:

  • Build on the successes of exemplary programs that serve to help older workers find meaningful employment, and seek means of achieving long-term sustainability of these initiatives. For example, consideration could be given to expanding the ThirdQuarter pilot program which provides an online service to help employers and experienced employees who are 50-plus find each other.
  • Establish a working group or centre of expertise that works to identify labour and skill shortages and proactively seeks seniors and near seniors from developed pools to address shortages. This initiative could be modeled off of the Diversity Talent Pool developed by the Public Service Commission in Nova Scotia.
  • Explore a range of career transition, training and mentorship supports for older workers.
  • Engage employers through the development of a compendium of successful recruitment and retention strategies, such as training programs and flexible human resource practices, and resources for employers.Footnote 50 
  • Develop an Age-Friendly WorkplacesFootnote 51 initiative featuring partnerships between all levels of government and employers to provide information and planning support, as well as recognition, for employers to adopt age-friendly workplace measures.

Supporting Participation in Volunteer Work

Throughout its consultations, the Council heard that volunteer work needs to be valued and considered in discussions of the labour force participation of seniors and near seniors. Similar to paid employment, volunteer work offers the opportunity to remain active andengaged in society and to both contribute and gain skills and experience.Footnote 52 In addition to the skills that can be acquired, there are other benefits to volunteering that facilitate positive and active aging. Volunteering can serve to deepen social networks, improve access to information and support, and reduce the likelihood of social isolation. Volunteering is also linked to improved quality of life, increased physical activity, and lower mortality rates. It enhances life satisfaction and well-being, contributes to self confidence and personal growth, and provides a sense of purpose by providing individuals with the opportunity to contribute to their communities and to society.Footnote 53 

Participants indicated that workers in the voluntary sector face many of the same barriers as workers in the paid labour force, in addition to other sector-specific challenges due to limited capacity for human resource management, outdated organizational structures and procedures, and the existence occupations that do not interest younger generations of seniors. It was recommended that supports be put in place to recruit and train volunteer coordinators who can match potential volunteers and employers with jobs that interest them and utilize their skills.

Volunteer coordinators work to recruit, train and support volunteers. They also assist in adapting volunteer work to the needs of the individual volunteers and match potential volunteers with the appropriate placement. To do their job effectively, volunteer coordinators require specific training and education. Unfortunately, many volunteer organizations do not have the financial or human resources capacity to either hire a volunteer coordinator or to provide this individual with the required support. Volunteer coordinators should be viewed as a critical business function for organizations so they can continue to recruit, retain and train the volunteers they need to achieve their organizational goals and mandate.

Suggestion for Action

The Government could develop supports for senior volunteers.

  • Develop and disseminate good business management practices among the not-for-profit sector to attract new and near seniors to a volunteering experience that meets their aspirations as well as the evolving needs of the not-for-profit sector more generally.
  • Provide support for capacity-building strategies, such as the hiring and training of volunteer coordinators, to help not-or-profit organizations to improve their ability to engage and develop new recruits.

Supporting Informal Caregivers

Informal caregiving is prevalent among older workers aged 50 to 65. According to the General Social Survey conducted in 2007, more than a third of workers reported that they had provided care to a family member or friend in the last 12 months (41% of women, 31% of men) while close to half indicated that they had ever been informal caregivers.Footnote 54 While caregiving is not a new phenomenon, the circumstances under which families are expected to provide care have changed over the last 30 years. Along with the aging of the population, an increase in the incidence of disability, more women in the workforce, and the emergence of smaller, less traditional, more dispersed families, coupled with a trend toward de-institutionalization, it is anticipated that the demand for family caregivers will increase in the future. Given future demographic cost pressures facing long-term care systems, a continuation of informal caring roles will also become increasingly important.Footnote 55 While informal caregiving can serve as a means of formulating positive and rewarding relationships, it can also be associated with high levels of stress, financial burden, and intergenerational tensions within the family, especially when there is a lack of available supports and resources.

The Council heard that many older workers are unable to continue working full-time due to informal caregiving responsibilities.Footnote 56 It was acknowledged that the aging population will increase informal caregiving requirements, impacting all generations. An aging population will also impact the ability of families to balance pressures to remain in the labour market while providing care and assistance to family members, causing many working caregivers to reduce work hours or leave the workforce completely.Footnote 57 While knowledge about best-practice policies remains fairly limited in this area, policies which reduce the dual pressure from work and care for employed caregivers might improve their employability, making informal care a viable option for more potential caregivers.Footnote 58 

Currently, the federal government provides financial supports to caregivers in the form of the Compassionate Care BenefitFootnote 59 and the new Family Caregiver Tax CreditFootnote 60 announced in Budget 2011. However, continuing to seek ways to support and maintain the supply of family care appears to be a win-win-win approach: for the care recipient, as they prefer care from family members; for caregivers who are in need of supports; and for public systems.Footnote 61 

Suggestion for Action

The Government could develop policy solutions to support the provision of informal care.

  • Undertake further research to identify challenges facing informal caregivers and their families, to identify best practices and how to disseminate them.

Encouraging Positive Intergenerational Relationships

Throughout its consultations the Council heard about the importance of intergenerational relationships within our society. Participants held that a balanced society is made up of people from all generations and walks of life, indicating that each generation has something to contribute. For example, a multi-generational workforce benefits from the contribution of varied skills and ensures the transmission of knowledge and experience from older to younger employees, and vice versa.

Intergenerational relationships strengthen the social fabric of our families, communities and workplaces. Connections between the generations were said to be mutually beneficial, both on an individual and societal level. Positive intergenerational relationships provide opportunities for social interaction and networking; the development of friendships and expansion of social support systems; improved social capital; and strengthened community capacity. Thus, intergenerational relationships need to be celebrated and supported.

Suggestion for Action

The Government could integrate the importance of intergenerational relationships into the celebration of both National Seniors DayFootnote 62 and National Child Day.Footnote 63 

  • Existing observances could serve as a means of raising social awareness through the accompaniment of meaningful government action, such as an intergenerational policy commitment, or a national event that brings the generations together.

During consultations, many participants expressed that intergenerational challenges do exist within all milieus of Canadian society, including the family, workplace, and community. Concerns were raised in terms of fair public resource allocation among the generations in the face of an increasing dependency ratio; models of care for seniors both within and outside of the family; differences in social and work-life values and expectations between generations; physical segregation of generations within communities; and the ability of organizations, and community supports and services to effectively meet the needs of all generations. Other participants indicated that intergenerational tensions are generally not evident within Canadian society, but rather represent an issue that is driven primarily by theory.

As the population ages we will have more generations living together and caring for one another than ever before. Participants indicated that specific resources and supports may need to be put into place in order to accommodate this new dynamic, and saw a need to characterize possible intergenerational challenges and determine what measures could be put in place to address them. It was suggested that research initiatives be undertaken to project the population characteristics of future decades and that recommendations be based on these datasets rather than on current population characteristics, which will not effectively apply to the future population.

“Attaining a better social balance between generations is, and will long remain, one of the most important challenges facing OECD countries….Countries should analyse the intergenerational distribution of public and private spending, and its impact over time on the distribution of incomes and assets.”

OECD Social Affairs Ministers, 2005

Suggestion for Action

As the Government moves forward in assessing and addressing the impact of an aging population, analysis of intergenerational challenges and opportunities should be an integral part of this work.

  • The aging of the population in Canada is underway and will have a wide range of impacts over the next 40 years. Canada should identify challenges and opportunities with respect to intergenerational relations in order to address any challenges early and to take full advantage of potential opportunities.
  • Positive intergenerational relations will be increasingly important and should therefore be considered in all assessments conducted by the Government on issues raised by population aging.

Supporting Intergenerational Projects

Intergenerational projects were identified as means of facilitating positive intergenerational interactions and relations. These initiatives foster opportunities for positive interaction among the generations, which can change the way aging and different age groups are perceived, dissolving ageist stereotypes and negative attitudes. The goal of intergenerational projects is the development of a mutual respect and understanding between the generations. Participants therefore indicated that there is a need to make a conscious effort to develop opportunities for intergenerational projects, programming, and policy.

The New Horizons for Seniors Program (NHSP) is a federal program that supports projects led or inspired by seniors who make a difference in the lives of others and in their communities. The NHSP provides funding to many not-for-profit organizations to support projects involving seniors and their communities, many of which involve intergenerational components. Consultation participants described the NHSP as an excellent program that has funded many innovative and successful intergenerational community projects.

While the Council heard positive feedback about this government program, some ideas for its improvement were offered. Most notably, it was indicated that communities are in need of projects that are broad, continuous, and linked to other initiatives. It was therefore recommended that the NHSP develop a supporting or leadership role that could link initiatives. In carrying out this role, project summaries and successes could be made available to the public so that communities and organizations may learn from these successes and adopt their own initiatives, or link to existing intergenerational projects.

Suggestion for Action

The Government could place more emphasis on supporting intergenerational community projects through the New Horizons for Seniors Program.

  • The NHSP could showcase successful intergenerational projects to inspire and scale up similar projects in other communities.
  • The NHSP could engage a greater variety of client groups, such as employers, in an effort to support intergenerational projects in a larger variety of settings.

Developing Supportive and Effective Policy

Consultation participants clearly defined various principles the government should consider in developing and implementing policy action on the two examined priorities. In order to be effective, it was indicated that policies need to be flexible, holistic and take into consideration the possible impacts on other age groups of the population. It was also stressed that policy action is required now in order to address the future challenges that the demographic shift will bring.

It is well known that seniors and near seniors are not a homogenous group, but are rather a diverse group that have varied needs and circumstances. Policies and programs that support older workers therefore need to be flexible and able to adapt to individual circumstances, and must allow individuals to make their own work or retirement choices in the light of their own health, aspirations, financial status and family situations.

Throughout the consultations, it was stressed that addressing the challenges brought on by population aging will require cooperation between all levels of government and a coordination of policies and programs to ensure comprehensive and collaborative programs for seniors across all jurisdictions. It was indicated that programs and policy therefore needs to be linked and coordinated so that government support takes on a holistic approach.

Finally, seniors issues are not isolated from issues that affect other segments of the population. For example, an aging demographic may put pressures on younger generations to provide informal care to older relatives. Therefore, all policies should take into account the interaction of issues faced by all generations rather than focusing in on one segment of the population in isolation.

Suggestion for Action

Work collaboratively with all levels of government, stakeholders and relevant partners to develop integrated, coordinated and comprehensive policy that supports all Canadians in response to the challenges of population aging.

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