Uncertain future

From the April 2024 print edition

The Canadian workforce and the companies employing them face unchartered territory in the years ahead. The future labour market will see the number of people entering the workforce become less than the number of people leaving. This presents a variety of challenges for companies.

Christina Wallaert is a Toronto-based e-commerce specialist and category management professional.

A Statistics Canada labour force survey from November 2023 found there were 2.7 million Canadians aged 15 to 24 that say they are employed, compared to 4.4 million people 55 and older. That same study also shows a big discrepancy in the total population of Canadians 15 to 24 years old, with 4.7 million. That’s compared to those aged 55 and older, at 12.4 million people.

From labour shortages to retaining workers and providing alternatives for traditional work environments, companies will need to look at how they operate and put strategies and policies into place to manage the changing workforce demographic.

Value of experienced workers
Older workers are critical to a company for the knowledge, experience, and skills they accumulate during their careers. Those qualities, combined with a strong work ethic, make them desirable employees that companies should try to hold onto for as long as possible.
In manufacturing, older workers have more of the experience and skills crucial to maintaining a high level of quality and productivity. The concern with those workers retiring is it could lead to a decline in product quality, potentially leading to unhappy customers and clients, along with lost revenue. That’s an outcome no company wants.

Healthcare, transportation, and construction are some of the areas expected to be most affected by a labour shortage. Retaining older workers for longer will help alleviate the issue. It may also require additional training and upskilling to keep current with updated technology.

Experienced workers are instrumental in the training and development of younger workers. Processes should be in place to encourage knowledge transfer from older employees to younger employees through documentation, hands-on training, and group training sessions, with the goal of sharing and exchanging information, thereby retaining the expertise of experienced workers.

Accommodating older employees
The journey to retirement looks different these days. Supply chain organizations must prepare to meet older employees where they are in this process by offering more work options. Traditional work arrangements will not be attractive to older workers heading into retirement.
In the past, people worked in their chosen career and then retired immediately upon reaching a certain age. Current trends indicate
a more gradual easing into full retirement. The path to get there could include reduced work week hours, bridge jobs, and short-term contracts or consulting gigs. All or some of these steps can be on the path people take to retirement. Companies that continue to push traditional work weeks and roles risk alienating their older workforce or losing them to other companies that offer the options they’re looking for.

Working longer
Part of the older workforce may opt to continue working past 65 in some capacity, either because they can’t afford to retire or want to work longer to save more money. In 2022, working seniors accounted for five per cent of Canadians employed, according to Statistics Canada. Seniors who want to continue working may be looking for non-traditional work arrangements, like pre-retirement workers. As it will get more difficult to fill roles, it would benefit companies to find ways to extend the careers of their older employees for those who want that opportunity.

The competition to fill jobs will be fierce, with more people leaving the workforce than entering it.

To be top of mind to potential employees, companies can implement programs to attract and retain younger talent earlier. Internships, co-op programs or apprenticeships are great ways to target college or university students, introducing them to the industry and company before they start their careers.

The younger workforce puts more emphasis on qualities like respect, relationships, and social interactions. Companies should
be looking at their work culture and how to improve onboarding processes. That includes mentoring and social events with the intention of integrating newer employees with experienced ones early on. This helps newer employees feel more comfortable to seek help and ask questions.

Younger workers are more drawn to flexible schedules, especially remote and hybrid working environments. Adapting office policies to accommodate those requirements will help companies attract younger workers.

The ageing workforce presents a variety of challenges to supply chain organizations and their companies. There are ways to minimize the impact of those challenges. It’s important to start implementing change now so employees and employers can plan for that future.