Going grey

Daniel MacEachern
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Employers increasingly looking to older workers to combat shortage

Even in his new venture with Ocean Delight Cottages, Jerry Byrne has figured out ways to enjoy himself, such as fishing during the opening of the 10-day food fishery.
— Submitted photo

For Jerry Byrne, another man’s retirement prompted his own return to the workforce.

The former president and CEO of the DFB Group — encompassing five companies with a presence in the oil and gas, marine and industrial markets — had been retired less than a year when former premier Danny Williams announced his surprise retirement in late 2010.

Byrne, 62, spent much of his work-free months travelling — to Thailand as well as across Canada and the United States. While discussing the news of Williams’ retirement with his daughter while visiting her in British Columbia, he decided, after a few glasses (or bottles, he admits) to pick up where his late brother, the former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Jack Byrne, had left off. Jerry Byrne ran for the Tories in the riding of St. John’s East in the 2011 federal election, only to get trounced by Jack Harris.

“I worked like a dog, and took the beating of a lifetime,” he says now. But despite the loss, he says the goal re-energized him. Prior to his retirement, Byrne found himself working “ungodly” hours at the helm of a company that had grown from a dozen employees to 450, from a million dollars in annual revenue to $80 million a year.

So he sold his shares in DFB in 2009 and retired in 2010 and “did the soul-searching thing” before his decision to run for the Conservatives.

After his election campaign, he looked around for something to do, and found it in Heart’s Delight, where he bought Ocean Delight Cottages and got back  to the business world.

“After that last year, I’d caught all the breath I needed to catch,” he says.

His short retirement was “fantastic,” he adds, but he realized it wasn’t going to be long-term just yet.

“I was never designed to cruise, I was designed to drive, and I just had to get back to driving.”

Newfoundland and Labrador, once Canada’s youngest province, is now the country’s oldest — in terms of population — with a young workforce hollowed out as people left for parts south and west in search of better job opportunities. Now, with oil and gas strong and mining growing, the provincial economy is robust and is forecast to need to fill more than 70,000 jobs by the year 2020, which means employers will be looking to fill largely untapped labour pools. Some are hoping to attract ex-patriate Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to return to the province, others will look to temporary foreign workers or immigrants, others will look to workers 50 and older.

That’s the premise of the Silver Summit, a two-day conference kicking off Sunday in St. John’s, aimed at workers who have just retired, or are on the cusp, but who may want to look for a new career, whether it’s  just for something to do or it’s because they haven’t set aside as much money as they think they may need for retirement.

Christine Snow of the Northeast Avalon Regional Economic Development Board says the objective of the conference is to start the discussion of options for people as they retire.

“Life doesn’t have to end at retirement. You might want to start a second career. You might want to open your own business,” she says. “You might want to look at alternative work arrangements with your existing employers. It’s all about there are things for you to think about. What we’re trying to get out of it is there are different types of support needed that will allow you to make that transition to whatever you might want to do.”

The conference is also intended to help businesses looking to draw from an older workforce, whether it’s because they desire their experience — or because they simply need workers, says Snow. A significant percentage of the province’s expected job vacancies will be due to retirements, she adds.

“Thirty-nine per cent of those people that are retiring are on the Northeast Avalon,” she says.

“So we’ve got some real issues around if we’re going to continue to grow and prosper and we’ve got all these people retiring, how are we going to fill it? Immigration is clearly one way to be able to deal with that. Attracting people home and getting more people locally engaged in the workforce. But one of the other pieces, which is where we came at it, is just because somebody is retiring doesn’t mean they’re disengaged from the labour force. So while you might be retiring from one occupation or job or whatever, maybe you want to do something else.”

See CONFERENCE, page A18

Jerry Byrne traded in his job as president and CEO of the DFB group of companies for retirement, then returned to workforce after a federal election run re-energized his desire to work. — Submitted photos

The Silver Summit will feature networking for businesses and retired workers looking to connect, as well as presentations from both companies that are targeting retirees as well as people who have moved from retirement into second careers.

There are also sessions on financial issues like how to protect pension benefits while earning extra income in a second career.

Provincial Health Minister Susan Sullivan — who transitioned from a 30-year teaching career into politics, as Snow notes — is delivering the keynote address Monday morning.

One thing the summit is emphatically not about is asserting the superiority of one age group over another, Snow says.

“We don’t want to get into one age against another age, because that’s a no-win for either age group,” she says adding that older workers and younger workers both have different advantages and different needs.

The conference is geared towards 50-plus workers and the companies looking to attract them and need to know what sort of benefits and requirements are needed.

“We did a survey, did some work last year around second careers — we’ve been trying to get a better understanding of the needs of that age group for the past couple of years, and one of the areas that we found (is) that mature workers who are thinking about starting a business, it’s in risk regulations, permits, what’s required and some of those types of areas, and marketing and promotions. They don’t need expertise in some areas, but different ones.”

Snow’s not sure yet the reasons retirees have signed up for the session, whether it’s because they’re looking to stay active, whether it’s because they want to indulge a lifelong dream, or if it’s the more prosaic reason that they simply don’t have enough money for retirement.

One of the companies involved in the Silver Summit is Home Depot, which Snow says is known for its age-friendly policies.

Deanne Hussey, human resources manager for Home Depot in St. John’s, said they’ll be part of a panel session about how businesses can recruit and retain older workers as well as making sure benefit plans cover their needs.

“For us, it’s just identifying one of the groups that we cater to, but certainly a very important group of individuals in the workforce at the moment,” she says, adding that the aging workforce is a great candidate pool, especially for the service industry.

“We need a lot of flexible schedules, part-time individuals, so it’s a non-standard workforce, and therefore a group of individuals who might be retiring or looking for a different career opportunity or change of pace are ideal for our workforce.”

Home Depot employs workers even 70 and older as sales associates, she said — a labour pool of carpenters and home handypeople who don’t put down the tools as they get older.

“Those are individuals who have a ton of knowledge and experience in the workforce, whether it’s just the customer-service relations and great people skills, or it’s specific knowledge to a different home-improvement area. They have a wealth of knowledge to share with the customers and the peers that they work with.”

Not only that, said Hussey, but it’s often Home Depot’s older customers who want to do home-improvement projects themselves, rather than have someone do it for them, and the company wants a sales force that can connect with its customers.

Byrne, 62, says companies will be increasingly looking to fill vacancies with older workers, and uses DFB as an example. He says companies that just hire younger workers — whether it’s because they can pay them less and get those with potentially fewer non-work responsibilities, like children — will miss the benefits older workers bring. He says DFB happily paid more for experienced employees.

“There’s a tremendous benefit to having someone who has been there,” he says.



Organizations: DFB Group, Home Depot, Northeast Avalon Regional Economic Development Board

Geographic location: Canada, Thailand, United States British Columbia Newfoundland and Labrador Avalon

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Recent comments

  • Adrienne Byrne
    October 03, 2012 - 16:18

    Congratulations on a great article and for championing the value of the seasoned employee. As a young gerontologist from Newfoundland, working down South, it is great to see the province being a leader in the age-wave. The value of a more experienced employee cannot be underestimated. One of my favorite quotes, though I don't know who said it, is "In youth we learn. In age we understand."