"We find that between 1990 and 2020 around three quarters of occupations have seen their age-friendliness increase and employment in above- average age-friendly occupations has risen by 49 million. These findings point to the need to frame the rise of age-friendly jobs in the context of other labour market trends and imperfections."
-National Bureau of Economic Research NBEC (September 2022)
The above excerpt from the WHO global age-friendly cities guide depicts a workplace environment in 2007 that was far from age friendly for seniors. They were depicted as old and being in state of physical and mental decline. They were being shuttled off farms and into crowded urban centres in an era of declining employment in the agricultural sector. Moreover, they were deemed unsuitable for industrial jobs because of their limited physical capabilities. They lacked the combination of post- secondary education and computer skills to gravitate to what was in that era a limited number of management positions in a nascent information/knowledge management sector. The thrust of the background studies and recommendations in the civic participation/employment domain were to make society age friendly by finding ways to accommodate and support seniors.
The NBEC research excerpt above documents the status quo in the contemporary labour market. The COVID pandemic has revealed the stark reality of how the job market functions in an information/knowledge management dominated environment. Life-long careers are in decline and the gig economy with an array of contract employment opportunities are in the mainstream. Entire industries have transitioned into an age friendly mode where an increasing amount of work can be done remotely and is home based. This is an ideal workplace environment for seniors focused age friendly work- places. Your home is no longer just your castle. It’s now your place of business.
Affordable hi-tech enables many of the current generation of seniors in relatively good states of physical and mental health, to purchase high end personal computers. These computers are user friendly and can support sophisticated business applications. Social media usage that that may well have started with family Facebook exchanges became a learning curve that now enables seniors to be computer literate, confident and comfortable with using I phones as their primary means of communication, participating in zoom conferences and so on.
All that’s needed is a reliable high-speed internet connection accessible from a home base to provide seniors with an age friendly workplace environment. Although 80% of Canadians live in urban communities its estimated that 25% - 35% of seniors reside in small towns and villages. Moreover, boomers, are a dominant cohort among the Canadian population that is interested in gravitating from congested high-cost urban communities to affordable small towns with an age friendly quality of life will increase that percentage over the next five to ten years.
The media is replete with stories of the two internet worlds that exist in Canada. There is an enviable high-tech world with affordable access to the high-speed internet power and infrastructure you need to support all your business needs in urban centres. Then there’s small town and rural Canada with its otherwise enviable lifestyle, albeit with the notorious absence of capable and reliable high - speed internet. This is the epitome of an age unfriendly characteristic in the contemporary civic participation/employment domain.
A prime objective of every community age friendly certification team in small towns and rural communities must be to become a vibrant voice in the chorus advocating for reliable high - speed internet in their community. In fact, certified age friendly committees should give serious consideration to forming a national age friendly internet society (NAFIS). NAFIS would provide the level of vocal advocacy that would attract the attention necessary to force the internet industry to go beyond just talking the talk of grand high speed internet plans and get on with actually getting the job done.
But there’s another critical step that must be taken to open the gates for seniors to access these age friendly jobs when their communities obtain age friendly certification that meets age friendly workplace criteria. Ageism is emerging as a deterrent to seniors in this new era of the age friendly workplace environment. Young working age adults and couples with families with post -secondary education are attracted to age friendly jobs in the gig economy, particularly those associated with remote work. Despite all the rhetoric in the corporate world about combatting any and all kinds of discrimination, employers are demonstrating an ageism bias in a preference to recruit young adults for gig economy/remote work age friendly jobs. Ironically, even though seniors have demonstrable experience and expertise in the soft skills such as empathetic listening and communication that are so critical to customer relationship management (CRM) they are being relegated to the “too old to be seriously considered for these jobs” status.
Confronting ageism in the contemporary age friendly work place environment must become a priority with every age friendly committee.
John G. Kelly
Mentoring & Counselling