Older Workers' Forum

Update 6/2/2016: "Canadian seniors still working to make ends meet" -- a story by CBC's "The Current" with Anna Maria Tremonti -- highlights the ongoing struggle of Canaidians over the age of 65 who are finding themselves in situations where they have no choice but to work.  
Listen online, and read the transcript + accompanying article by clicking here.

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In November, 2013 The Working Centre - with partners Lutherwood in Cambridge, and Conestoga College in Guelph - organized an Older Worker's Forum at St. John's Kitchen in Kitchener, Ontario. 

Every new plant closing and layoff brings with it older workers, some having worked 25 years or longer for the same company or industry. They are not ready to retire whether they are 55 or 60. They need a full time job to both meaningfully participate in society and to have income for their household budget.

The evening event was arranged to include a keynote presentation by Maureen Brosnahan, round table discussion in small groups, and a question period where older workers represented their common concerns to a panel of local politicians.

Watch the Older Worker's Forum short film below: 

In the spring of 2013, The Working Centre invited Maureen Brosnaham, a veteran National Reporter with CBC Radio to listen to the stories of the older workers participating in the Targeted Initiative for Older Workers (TIOW) program.
TIOW at The Working Centre had a 75% success rate in supporting older workers to find work or retraining. We have learned that the Federal Government has decided to cancel this important community-based support. Maureen Brosnaham's 20 minute documentary Freedom 95 was broadcast on November 3rd and is available for listening on CBC Radio's Sunday Edition website.

Click Here to listen online. This documentary describes the importance of employment supports in the face of continual rejection in the labour market.

Maureen was the keynote speaker at the Older Worker's Forum to describe what she learned from her 20 hours of on-site taping. Her documentary struck a cord with CBC
listeners. Maureen reported that before 8:00 pm on the Saturday evening, before the show was even broadcast, there were over 800 posted comments. The majority of these comments were stories and experiences of people dealing with or understanding the frustrations of joblessness. 

Over 130 older workers participated in the round table discussions at the Forum. We had a good showing from Kitchener and Waterloo City Councillors who voiced their concern. We invited Catherine Fife MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo, John Milloy MPP for Kitchener Centre and Stephen Woodworth MP for Kitchener Centre to respond to the direct questions. Each politician from the three parties made commitments to ask questions about services for older workers and stated their support for community based supports.

Questions for the Panel

Catherine Fife MPP, John Milloy MPP, and Stephen Woodworth MP were asked questions posed by community members that represented the concerns of older workers. The questions were planned ahead of time by a group of TIOW participants, and the panel was given an advanced copy. The panel was asked to respond to the questions and concerns at the end of the presentation with a prepared statement.

The questions presented to the panel are as follows:

In our TIOW group we have looked at the Workforce Planning Board update.  Strategic Priority #4 Older Worker Retention,  recommends, “Longer Interventions: pre and post employment supports offered e.g. in the targeted Initiative for older Workers (TIOW) model which incorporates training funds and living allowances has proven to be effective in improving employment outcomes.” 

TIOW has provided an effective model for supporting older workers, but is scheduled to end in March 2014.  How do you plan to continue to support the needs of older workers and why would this program be cancelled when it has worked so well?

One of the most frequently discussed topics in our groups together is the stigma and prejudice towards older workers.  We live in a culture that appreciates youth, but older workers bring experience, maturity, a good work ethic, and many more advantages. 

Has the government considered an advertising campaign about the benefits of hiring older workers?  Such a promotion would support our job-searching efforts and help to build our confidence in meeting with employers.

TIOW has made training available to older workers who have not faced lay-offs, but find themselves without work.  Over and over in our conversations workers have talked about the importance of this training.  Following are two strategies to meet the needs of two categories of training that we have seen in TIOW:

Could Second Career eligibility be tweaked to include access for older workers seeking to retrain and reposition in the labour market?

Could Employment Services be amended (similar to how the Youth Employment Fund has been added) to offer a training fund of up to $3,000 for older workers?  Such a fund could be administered by the Service Delivery organizations in Employment Services, and would need to be shown to improve the employability for older workers.

The TIOW program helped to bring older workers together to share experiences, to break down some of the isolation of being alone and unemployed and discouraged.  It is known that it takes longer for an older worker to find their next job – 3 to 6 months longer.  This situation is often made harder by trying to support aging parents, children and grandchildren.  Adjusting to change is a significant factor and finding a way forwards is often difficult.  Gathering together in groups, and the one-on-one assistance has been an important part of TIOW, and is not often available in other employment support programs. 

We're worried that these groups will be phased out and older workers will be left isolated. What can you do to help keep this service alive?

While many of our questions today focus on not being able to find work, my comments relate to the kind of work that is available.  As a group we have had jobs for most of our working life to date, we have contributed widely to the community, and now find ourselves without work. The jobs available to us now are often part-time, contract, temporary, unstable and low paying.  When we can find work, we are moving from jobs like technical writer to retail sales, from manufacturing to security guard work.  A sequence of jobs like these is emotionally heavy and it gets harder to build up again both financially and emotionally.

We work hard to be self-sustaining, but the jobs are not there to sustain a steady income. Ironically, we see the same effects on younger workers as well – people coming into the labour market.  The recent Youth Employment Fund seems to be supporting employers to hire younger workers in sustainable jobs.  

What efforts are being taken to help encourage longer-term sustainable work for older workers?

The TIOW program has provided Living Allowance and Transportation Assistance for a group of us as we are looking for work or taking retraining.  We don’t fit into any other income support programs – TIOW has offered us the stability of a very basic living allowance which reduces the stresses of unpaid bills as we take training, build a plan forwards, and search for work.  As TIOW ends, this kind of living allowance will not be available – it is only after all of our resources have been exhausted that we will be able to receive assistance.  This creates unnecessary destabilization and stress, and often means we become too depressed to go out and find work.  As well, fewer and fewer of us are qualifying for Employment Insurance benefits.  

Many of us feel that we have worked our whole lives and are now living in poverty.  It is almost impossible to live on part-time earnings and minimal CPP.  As we heard in the earlier question, the jobs we are finding are often temporary and part-time. 

How can/will you support older workers income and transportation needs to leave us less vulnerable to the stresses of poverty as we look for work?

The range of older workers in our groups is very wide.  Some own houses and are fortunate to have a spouse who earns an income, and are learning how to reduce costs to make this work.  Others still own their houses, but do not have a form of income coming in, are rapidly depleting savings, and are desperately seeking work in order to pay the bills.  As well, many have moved to apartments, or have never owned a home, and are trying to survive on limited incomes.

Affordable housing is very difficult to find.  What efforts are being made to support affordable housing options in our communities, which help to address this issue?  Are there plans to support seniors co-housing options that help people to gather together to reduce housing costs?

The Older Worker's Forum was documented in the December 2013 issue of Good Works News - The Working Centre's quarterly newspaper.

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