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Thursday, April 17, 2014

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Employers urged to view older workers as assets

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Aaron Rand

MONTREAL — Mature workers are a “hidden talent pool” that many employers are reluctant to hire or retain, according to a study concerned mainly with the development of the labour market for Quebec anglophones.

The Community Economic Development and Employability Corporation (CEDEC), with which Federation CJA’s Agence Ometz is associated, released on Oct. 5 its final report on the situation for mature workers – defined as those 45 and over – in the province. It confirms that this group has more difficulty finding jobs.

CEDEC’s goal now is to persuade employers, as well as recruitment and employment services agencies, that older workers are assets. With an aging population and a looming shortage of qualified workers, CEDEC employers will not be able to shun those who are not young, and, in fact, have to accommodate them.

The issue is even more pressing for anglophones; close to 39 per cent of those in the Montreal area are at least 45 years old. With the expectation of declining retirement income, people are being forced to work longer.

Employers surveyed for the report perceived older people as being stable, motivated and productive, yet are still reluctant to hire them even though they expect a shortage of qualified people in the next few years.

“[Mature workers] experience various levels of prejudice when looking for work and are keenly aware that they are being discriminated against because of their age,” concludes the report, Employment Practices and Employability of the Hidden Talent Pool: The Mature Workers, whose principal author is Charles Shahar, the federation’s research co-ordinator.

The MC at the report’s launch was CJAD radio host Aaron Rand, who has more than 30 years of experience in broadcasting. He deadpanned: “I’m a mature worker myself; I’ll be 45 very soon.”

Guest speaker Hélène LeBlanc, the New Democrat MP for LaSalle-Emard, offered her own story as an example of how it’s never too late to switch careers. At 46, she returned to university and graduated at 50 with a degree in agronomy.

After an enjoyable two years in that field, she changed course again in May of last year when she was elected to Parliament.

Few employers admit to ageism. Inadequate French, the expectation of higher salaries and lack of technological skills, mainly computer skills, are key reasons employers gave for their reluctance. Some also cited older workers’ lower vitality and reduced time they might stay on the job.

Employers said they are “not likely to work long hours or overtime” and “resist change and do not like to learn new things.”

CEDEC thinks these concerns are overstated. The most telling figure came from employment services providers. Every one of them acknowledged that age at least partly detracts from employment chances.

The report recommends that employers offer training programs and more flexible work schedules to older hires.

The chief message of CEDEC’s awareness campaign is: “While Quebec’s mature workers have to adapt to the changing necessities of the labour market, government and employers have to also adjust to the aging population and its implications for the workforce.”

CEDEC is targeting not only private-sector employers, but also governments, both federal and provincial, which it found to be among the least receptive to hiring the mature.

The report recommends that the Quebec government develop programs specifically geared to educating mature workers, including French and computer courses, and training in marketing oneself, such as through social media.

There’s also a need for mentorship and intergenerational relations training, CEDEC believes. Though federally funded, CEDEC is an independent organization.

Changing the negative image of mature workers should begin in colleges and universities, among students in human resources management programs, the report says. The report further recommends that volunteer experience be recognized in hiring and that older persons be included among those protected by the federal Employment Equity Act.

Employers should also be encouraged through financial incentives, such as wage subsidies or, if they take on those near or past retirement age, tax deductions.

One glaring deficiency revealed by the study is the lack of awareness of or access to resources that are available to mature job seekers. One idea is to create a distinct LinkedIn virtual community for people over 45. Agence Ometz is already providing training in social media and how to tap into the “hidden” job market, as well as French conversation classes and networking opportunities. Since 2009, CEDEC has been studying the needs of unemployed and under-employed English-speaking Quebecers over 45.

Last year, it released the results of a survey of nearly 700 such individuals living in Greater Montreal. That study, also conducted by Shahar, found more than half felt that prospective employers viewed their age as a liability. Although almost 70 per cent described themselves as bilingual, they felt their level of French was not considered good enough.

This latest survey polled 223 employers, ranging widely in size and type, and 76 employment services providers, as well as 102 recruitment agencies.

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