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The (old) elephant in the room: value of older workers ignored

Toronto Star by Helen Hirsh Spence 20 November 2019

 

Over the last few years I have attended several well-organized conferences and seminars in Canada and the U.S on the nature of work in the future. At each event, I listen carefully for any mention of one of the most powerful segments of the workforce who bring impressively high levels of innovation, productivity, and experience to the conversation — that being, older adults.

Sadly, I am always greeted with silence on the issue.

Panel after discussion panel attempt to tackle ways to tap into diverse groups to alleviate skills and labour shortages, both current and future. Interestingly, on most surveys and applications, diverse groups have come to include those people who are immigrants, LGBTQ, the disabled, Indigenous and women.

Diversity doesn’t seem to acknowledge age. I don’t hear mention of the possibility of hiring, retaining, or recruiting older adults as a possible solution. Repeatedly, older adults, an often underestimated and disregarded segment of society, lack recognition.

Speakers provide tips on investing, scaling, and succeeding as entrepreneurs. Keynotes reference emerging trends for the future and only occasionally mention the greatest demographic shift in history. Frankly, this is an amazing omission given that, globally, those over 65 already outnumber children younger than five. Unfortunately, older workers do not figure very prominently into the equation.

People are living on average into their mid-eighties and often well beyond. Their health is better than ever and, although chronologically older, many remain full of energy and ingenuity. They want or need to work.

Given that a large percentage of North Americans have no retirement savings, the majority must work longer to maintain extended lifespans. While this demographic may not have the wherewithal to retire, it does have more spending power.

As the population ages, a new group of workers and consumers is created. Some members of this group may require special health services and products, opening up new markets. Others continue to use their knowledge and skills to contribute to the economy. This is not an insignificant consumer group.