A golden opportunity for older workers to energize firms

Organizations tap into the over 50 pool
By Moira Potter
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/28/2005

A devastating labour shortage is looming. Baby boomers, still one-third of the North American population, will be leaving the workforce in the next two decades, and there simply won’t be enough younger workers available to fill the intellectual and skills gap. Business will feel the crunch.

Many organizations already recognize the coming crisis and are looking to tap into a vast, knowledgeable, experienced and growing pool of workers — those over 50.

“Smart organizations realize that older workers not only possess a lifetime of experience and a wealth of skills, but are, for the most part, vibrant, hard-working and dedicated,” says Eric Vengroff, vice-president of marketing for CARP, Canada’s association for people over the age of 50.

“Recruiters must set aside the stereotypes and prejudices that older workers are less productive, resistant to change and hard to get along with. That’s simply not true. In fact, the opposite is the case.”

As a case in point, consider Edythe Shand and Doug Gerrard, both Torontonians in their 60s. Shand has tried to retire three times, but her former employer, RBC Financial Group, keeps luring her back. Gerrard gave retirement a shot too, but it didn’t work for him either. The call of a new career with The Home Depot soon put that idea on the shelf for the successful entrepreneur.

Shand and Gerrard are at an age that many organizations consider “past it.” Fortunately, their employers don’t see things that way. Recently, RBC Financial Group’s Global Banking Services Centre and The Home Depot Canada both participated in the Best Employers for 50-Plus Canadians in the first edition of the award by CARP and employee assistance program provider FGIworld.

“We asked them to tell us their story,” says Barb Jaworski, director of WorkLife Solutions at FGIworld and co-creator of the CARP award. “Most organizations are just beginning to think about how to retain or attract mature workers and are doing so for different reasons to meet their different business needs. Some are implementing one or two new ideas in a big way or creating several small initiatives.”

RBC’s Global Banking Services Centre invests in experienced staff

For RBC’s Global Banking Services Centre (GBSC), older workers represent a return on investment. During the course of a person’s career, RBC commits a great deal towards training, developing and honing an employee’s financial and business skills. By the time retirement looms, that employee has usually risen in the ranks and has considerable responsibility and knowledge. Retirement means a loss for the organization in expertise, experience and education, not to mention the time and expense to train and nurture a replacement.

Seeing an opportunity to retain that wealth of knowledge and maturity, in the past few years GBSC has begun to recruit employees who are about to retire from other areas of the bank.

“The Global Banking Service Centre services RBC’s top-tier corporate clients with domestic and global loans administration and cash management servicing,” says David Sullivan, centre manager for GBSC. “The nature of our business requires people with the right business and behavioural skills, experience and dedication. We want to attract and retain people with extensive experience in financial services and business in general, as well as the know-how to manage the intricacies of dealing with major multinational accounts. So we value the maturity.”

Edythe Shand, who has 40 years of experience with RBC, was a perfect candidate. Having joined the bank as ledger keeper, then as teller, she rose up the ranks to the role of manager of customer service at one of the bank’s Toronto branches. She later moved to RBC’s Business Service Group in Markham, Ont., then to the audit office in downtown Toronto, where she stayed until she decided to take early retirement two years ago. It lasted less than 12 months.

GSBC called and asked her if she’d like to work on an upcoming project. She agreed. When the project finished, Shand once again retired, busy as she was with her family, church, dancing lessons, gardening and local amateur theatre company. Just weeks later, she was back at Royal Bank, working on another project. At its completion, she once again retired — until GBSC offered her a permanent position that allows her to work only the hours that suit her needs.

Shand took the offer, working just two days a week. “I enjoy working with figures, I enjoy working with customers and I enjoy learning new skills” she says. “I also love the people I work with and the friends I’ve made here. And the extra money allows me the luxury of visiting my children and grandchildren in Calgary and St. Louis.”

According to Sullivan, the GSBC happily accommodates retirees by allowing flexible working arrangements. One staff member works only during the summer months. Winter finds him enjoying the Caribbean sun.

“These individuals aren’t sitting at home twiddling their thumbs,” says Sullivan. “They’re active in their communities, pursuing their interests, travelling and enjoying their retirement. They’re busy people.”

Sullivan added that Shand dispels the stereotype that older people can’t keep up with technology. “Edythe just rolls up her sleeves and gets the job done. She not only mastered the technology but found ways to save RBC thousands of dollars. And she knows so many people in all areas of this huge organization. She knows exactly who to call for what. That knowledge is priceless.”

The Home Depot builds an experienced workforce

Doug Gerrard has always been ready for anything. At 62, he shows no signs of slowing down — in fact, he’s on his fourth career. Gerrard began his working life as a military pilot then entered the marketing and advertising field after leaving the air force. He held progressively senior positions at Rothmans and Carling O’Keefe and was sports and special events manager for the Canadian National Exhibition. In 1980, he left the CNE to launch his own marketing and special events company. During the next 20 years, his fascination with emerging technology began to spill into his professional life and his company evolved into one dealing with computer hardware.

Five years ago, he began toying with the idea of selling the business and devoting more time to his wife and many personal interests, interests that included breeding Dandie Dinmont terriers and volunteering as an organizer of an annual four-day entrepreneurship camp for high school students. But easing out of his business didn’t work because the energetic Gerrard suddenly had time on his hands. So he applied for a part-time job at The Home Depot.

“I applied at The Home Depot because I spent so much time there anyway,” the self-professed handyman says. “They hired me on the spot. After the first orientation session, I knew this was a company I wanted to be involved with. I liked their approach to business and the way they placed such value on their employees.”

The feeling was mutual. After just six weeks, The Home Depot asked Gerrard to work full time. In three months, his obvious leadership and entrepreneurial skills propelled him into the position of department manager. Today, he supervises the tool-rental business at one of the retailer’s Mississauga, Ont., stores and is enjoying every minute of it.

“The Home Depot lets me take ownership of my department and try new things,” he says. “I’m been given the freedom to develop the tool-rental business here at the Mississauga store into an increasingly profitable venture. My experience and skills are valued.”

Gerrard is not alone. According to Susan Lloyd, a divisional human resources manager in the company’s Toronto offices, 20 per cent of The Home Depot’s Canadian workforce is older than 50.

“Our customers value the expertise and experience of more senior associates,” she says. “And The Home Depot tries to reflect in its staff the demographic of the community it services. Older customers often prefer discussing a project with an older associate.”

And as is clear through the examples of Edythe Shand and Doug Gerrard, older workers bring their valuable business acumen to the equation too. This is something other progressive organizations would be wise to note, says FGIworld’s Jaworski.

“The value of the older worker has changed and smart organizations are changing too,” says Jaworski. “These organizations are analyzing their long-term demographics and how they meet their business strategies. They’re learning to break down the barriers of old beliefs and attacking the problem in innovative and creative new ways.”

Moira Potter is a communications specialist for FGIworld, a Toronto-based provider of employee assistance programs, workplace health and wellness, absence management and prevention and cross-cultural solutions. She can be reached at mpotter@fgiworld.com

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