Using boomers short-term could help gap in Nova Scotia labour shortage

Posted on January 28, 2019 in Debates

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Contributors
Jan. 27, 2019.   By

This column has been submitted in response to the StarMetro Halifax article “Automation could help fill the void left by Nova Scotia’s retiring boomers, report suggests” published Jan. 16, 2019.

HALIFAX — A recent report looking at the gap retiring boomers will leave in the workplace says that automation could go a long way toward filling that expanding labour shortage. The larger question, however, is what else can be done to tackle the issue — now and going forward. Somewhat ironically, boomers themselves appear to be a crucial part of the answer.

The report, released by Atlantic Provinces Economic Council (APEC), cited a shrinking labour force of 30,700 between 2012 and 2018, primarily due to retiring boomers. It goes on to recommend that employers need to “take a multi-faceted approach to address this declining labour force,” including looking to youth retention and immigration as part of the solution.

In a fall 2018 labour shortage report released by the Business Development Bank (BDC), the Atlantic provinces were shown to have the highest level of worker scarcity, at 50 per cent, well below the national average of 39 per cent. The report goes on to show how companies are trying to deal with the problem — often to the detriment of business growth and overall financial health

Most businesses are making the best of this somewhat tricky situation by hiring and training younger, less experienced individuals. Training is typically carried out by more senior-level employees, drawing them away from higher-value work. In addition, employers in this competitive market are having to pay more to attract individuals, and offer a variety of perks, including, in some cases, work flexibility and company stock options.

So what else can be done to quell the tide? Retired or semi-retired boomers who want to continue to work — albeit in a more flexible, short-term way are, increasingly, seen as a key part of the solution. They can be dropped into situations to handle specific projects or to mentor or train transitioning staff. They also represent a fixed-cost hiring, with no lag time, and no legacy or professional development costs.

People are living longer, and once they retire from full-time positions, are still in search of that elusive life-work balance, which in many cases includes continuing to contribute to the workforce. In a recent Globe and Mail article entitled “Active baby boomers rewrite the retirement myth,” Statistics Canada numbers show that in 2015 more than half (53.5 per cent) of 65-year-old men were still working, (of that, 22.9 per cent worked full-time jobs) and 38.8 per cent of 65-year-old women were still working — almost twice the 1995 level.

Meanwhile, the majority of jobs listed on job or recruitment agency sites tend to reflect the status quo, typically focusing on more permanent, long-term positions. One exception is Halifax-based, which focuses solely on linking employers with qualified, interested boomers.

The local start-up, currently expanding operations throughout Atlantic Canada and into Ontario, already has over 5,500 boomers in its database, and has recently secured a capital investment with Innovacorp — Nova Scotia’s early stage venture capital organization — which sees the start-up as “a proven model” to invest in.

And retired and semi-retired boomers are being strategically and successfully placed in an impressive roster of organizations, including a growing number of exciting early-stage companies looking for senior executives to support company growth.

The reality of skilled worker shortages was tackled in a recent CBC article, which focused on the challenges employers face when trying to accommodate four generations in the workplace: Baby boomers, Gen X’ers, Millennials, and Gen Z, who are beginning to make an appearance on the work stage. The challenge, it notes, pays off with a cross-pollination or exchange of ideas and knowledge, where it was once thought that boomers would simply transfer knowledge and understanding — in a trickle-down manner.

Increasingly, it’s believed that the advantages of multi-generational workplaces far outweigh the disadvantages. A 2018 Forbes article looks at how multi-generation decision teams (age gap of 25 years or more between youngest and oldest team members) meet or exceed expectations 73 per cent of the time compared with groups with a narrower range (10 years or less between the youngest and oldest), which met or exceeded expectations only 35 per cent of the time. Returning boomers (or perennials) and millennials have more in common than they might think, and as such are collectively redefining the workplace, particularly as it relates to a growing gig economy. Both groups are looking for purpose, flexibility and balance.

So while automation, youth attraction/retention and immigration are essential considerations to sustain and grow the economy, so is figuring out how to best accommodate the fastest growing segment of the labour market: boomers choosing to return to the labour force.

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