WORK: The Silver Ceiling

There has been seemingly endless discussion about Newfoundland and Labrador’s aging and dwindling population, and the potentially negative impacts that it will have on the labour force and the economy as a whole. However, this aging population also presents an opportunity for employers in the province.

“It’s a really interesting situation that we find ourselves in,” says Dr. Suzanne Brake, the province’s first government-appointed Senior’s Advocate. “People are living longer and healthier, so they are more capable of continuing to work.”

The latest labour market data, shows more NLers are choosing to work past age 65.
However, according to Dr. Brake, with the exception of a few businesses, employers have
yet to acknowledge older workers as a potential solution for the province’s dwindling labour force. As a result, Dr. Brake suggests that there is a need for a systemic shift in thinking when it comes to older workers.

“In many organizations, it’s the older workers who are the keepers of corporate memory, and who have tremendous experience, but it requires a shift in mindset to recognize that value, and seek out opportunities to retain these workers,” explains Dr. Brake. “Even simple changes, such as flexible work hours and more training opportunities, can make all the difference.”

This is the rationale behind the upcoming Older Workers Summit, a collaboration between the Office of the Seniors Advocate and Older Workers NL (a committee of volunteers that aims to enhance the employability of older workers), along with the Harris Centre and the St. John’s Board of Trade. Set to take place this Fall, the Summit will bring together employers, policy-makers, and other key stakeholders to discuss the challenges and opportunities faced by older workers.

Dr. Brake suggests that the first thing we must do is work to overcome systemic ageism –
something Mike Kehoe, Chair of Older Workers NL, has experienced firsthand.

older workers (2)

“There’s a silver ceiling,” says Kehoe. “Employers don’t recognize the benefit that you
carry, that your knowledge base can help the younger generation. Instead, there’s a perception that older workers will keep younger workers down.”

Dr. Brake agrees. “The reality, however, is that there are less children being born. There
doesn’t need to be angst amongst the generations, because there’s room for everybody.”
There is a lot of social and professional pressure for older workers to retire, and after a lifetime of working, why wouldn’t they want to? But it’s not that simple, according to Dr. Brake.

“I work because it provides a sense of self-worth. I want to be productive.”

– Mike Kehoe, Older Workers NL

“There are many older workers who must continue working because they are dependent
on the income to support themselves and their families – and others simply want to keep
working, to stay active.”

For 70-year-old Kehoe, working is a part of who he is.

“I work because it provides a sense of selfworth,” he explains. “I want to be productive.”

Kehoe admits that the path he has chosen is not an easy one. Through his volunteer work
with Older Workers NL, Kehoe is trying to raise awareness around this topic and help
make it easier for others to continue working. He hopes that the upcoming Summit will amplify that awareness and spark innovative solutions for workers and businesses.

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