This article is part of BIV's in-depth look at the labour forces shaping work and business in B.C.
Tens of thousands of Canadians were able to celebrate Labour Day this year by not setting their alarm clocks.
They didn’t need to get up early the next day because they are now retired.
In July, Statistics Canada reported that 300,000 Canadians had retired in the previous 12 months – a 30 per cent increase from the same period the year prior.
The retirement wave was part of the Great Resignation that had been expected during the pandemic but came about a year later than expected.
That large number of retirements in a single year, coupled with a sharp drop in immigration in 2020, is putting an intense squeeze on the Canadian labour market.
“The big, big difference between where we are today and 2019, for instance, is that immigration was cut over the last two years, and that’s had a significant impact on the supply of workers,” said Pedro Antunes, chief economist for the Conference Board of Canada.
While Canada registered more than 400,000 immigrants in 2021, the numbers can be misleading, because a lot of those new immigrants were already in the country as students or temporary foreign workers.
While a recession might ease the labour shortage temporarily, the draining of the pool of working-aged Canadians is a long-term trend that promises to get worse, warns RBC Economics.
Between 2016 and 2021, the number of Canadians aged 65 and older was seven million – 18 per cent of the Canadian population – according to Statistics Canada, and 22 per cent of working age Canadians are now between the ages of 55 to 64.
In other words, one-fifth of working age Canadians are set to retire over the next decade, and Canada’s birth rate has not been high enough to fill that vacuum.
In resource sectors, companies have been investing in skills training for First Nations with some success. While the employment rate for Indigenous Canadians has improved slightly over the last 10 years, First Nations represent a human resources pool that is still largely untapped.
Another demographic that employers may need to start tapping is seniors.
With baby boomers living longer than previous generations (an average of nine years longer than North Americans in 1921), many boomers could continue working well past 65 – provided they want to, and provided there are incentives to do so.
Helen Spence, founder of Top Sixty Over Sixty, does consulting for older workers who want to continue working or re-enter the workforce. She said many Canadians who reach 65 look forward to having a break from work.
But after they have had a year or two of full retirement, many retirees are willing and able to go back to work, at least part-time. Others might simply want to slow down a bit.
“There are many people who’d be perfectly happy to stay in their company or in their business and have reduced time and not be paid as much,” Spence said.
Not all employers recognize the value of older, experienced workers, however, and still prefer younger ones in their recruiting. It’s a mindset Spence said employers might need to rethink, as the labour pool continues to shrink.
“I think they think that everybody’s replaceable,” Spence said. “But there’s a ton of corporate and institutional memory that walks out the door every time somebody retires.”
From her experience, Spence said whether an employee decides to continue working after 65 or not “has everything to do with who the employer is and what the flexibility issues are.”
Despite their skills and experience, older workers can often find it difficult to find a job, she said.
“It takes two years for an older person to find a job, for the most part, and it’s much more difficult for women than it is for men,” Spence said.
While some managers might still be biased against older workers, others appear to be willing to tap this growing human resources pool.
“Retirees are returning to the workforce,” said Mike Shekhtman, regional director for Robert Half recruitment agency.
In a recent survey, Robert Half interviewed 900 senior managers across Canada.
“In the last 12 months, 46 per cent of those managers have on-boarded employees who had previously retired and returned to the workforce,” Shekhtman said. “It was incredible to see that amount of people that are coming back.”
Of those retirees who returned to work, 50 per cent came back full-time; the rest came back either part-time or as consultants and mentors.
As for whether retirees even want to come out of retirement, some may find they have no choice, when they find their pensions and savings just don’t cover their living expenses.
“I think, if they had their druthers, they would only work part time,” Spence said. “But I think a lot of people are working full-time because look at inflation. People are running out of money faster than they thought.”
One barrier to seniors working part-time is health benefits, which increase in importance as people get older.
“We’re encouraging organizations to offer benefits to their part-time workforce to help retain retirees because a lot of organizations do not offer their benefits to part-time workers,” said Lauren Florko, associate director of human capital for the Conference Board of Canada.
“Typically what people want, in aging, what they want in their benefits is typically what’s not covered.”