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Ottawa urges older workers to stay on the job

Updated Wed. Jan. 24 2007 4:17 PM ET News Staff

Canada's baby boomers are being asked to reconsider retirement in order to help the nation work through a growing labour shortage.

Human Resources Minister Monte Solberg told the Toronto Star that Canada is facing an "extraordinarily serious" lack of workers, particularly in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

"We need them," Solberg told the Star on Tuesday after announcing he was setting up a special panel to study labour market conditions affecting older workers.

Baby boomers -- Canadians born between 1946 and 1964 -- make up roughly 45 per cent of Canada's work force, and 78 per cent of Canadian workers between 40 and 69.

Solberg said the government is looking for ways to encourage them to stay on the job.

"We are going to have to find ways to engage boomers," Solberg said.

"Part of it is just education, just remind them that they are living a lot longer now than they used to and see if there are ways we can entice them to stay," he said.

The solutions could be as simple as offering a shorter work week, Solberg said.

While the government is taking steps to combat the shortage, Solberg said the onus is also on employers to encourage their older employees to continue working.

"It's an imperative for the country. We just have to do it. The countries that ... do it will succeed. And if we don't do it we won't ... and the truth is government can't do it all," he told the Star.

The panel will also look at ways to encourage older workers to return to the workforce, where practical, and to boost the number of immigrants and under-represented groups such as disabled Canadians and natives, in the workforce.

Statistics Canada reports that in 2005, an estimated 3.6 million workers were within 10 years of retirement, representing 22.1 per cent of the total number of workers - a higher number than ever before.

In 1986, almost 10 years earlier, only 10.3 per cent of workers were within 10 years of retirement.

"Now is the time for the panel to study labour market conditions affecting older workers and to look at measures we can take to help, whether through improved training or enhanced income support," Solberg told a Public Policy Forum conference.

Leroy Stone, associate director general of analytical studies at Statistics Canada, said baby boomers may have to stay on the job longer anyway for financial reasons.

"The economic situation is not going to be as rosy as we thought it was going to be (in retirement), so we may find them hanging on longer because their circumstances aren't so good," said Stone, who helped author the 459-page report, New Frontiers of Research and Retirement, that aims to help public and private sector leaders adjust to the wave of retirements among baby boomers.

Solberg said the situation is desperate, citing a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey that found that more than 60 per cent of Canadian companies felt their growth was being slowed by a shortage of skilled workers.

Those numbers were as high as 75 per cent in Alberta and 71 per cent in Quebec.

Last year, Ontario eliminated mandatory early retirement legislation that required people to retire at 65. Taken from

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