The Way We Will Be

The Globe and Mail

By Wallace Immen

Gather round, everyone, we’re taking a group portrait of Canada’s work force in 2017.

My, we’re quite a bit greyer than we were back in 2007. And it’s good to see so many women in the group and that we’re even more ethnically diverse than a decade ago.

The experts back then said these changes in the work force were inevitable, considering the demand for employees in an expanding economy with a shrinking birth rate.

Still, the demographic changes are a challenge for managers who will have to contend with ever-more-complex needs of a wider range of ages and cultures.

According to Statistics Canada, as early as 2015 a fertility rate of 1.5 children per woman – which is below the population-replacement level – will mean that the number of Canadians older than 65 will surpass the number younger than 15. That will make immigration the only source of work-force growth by 2017, as there will be more current workers leaving the labour pool than entering it.

And that creates a fundamental shift in the job market.

“This could be a bleak situation, but it depends on how you look at it,” says Andrew Ramlo, director of the Urban Futures Institute in Vancouver. “It will necessitate that employers compete more aggressively for talent and become more resilient and adaptable in order to retain employees. At the same time, it means a world of opportunities for younger generations.”

A projection from the Urban Futures Institute sees Canada requiring nearly 20.6 million people in the labour force in 2017, a 14-per-cent increase from 2006. Over all, the female work force will grow by 15 per cent while the male contingent grows by 13 per cent.

But we’re steadily aging. The total population younger than 55 will barely increase at all in the decade. The population in the entry-level ages of 15 to 34 will rise by just 4 per cent, and there will be no growth at all in the mid-career population from 35 to 54, the institute forecasts.

That means saying goodbye to freedom 55. “We have gone through three generations of abundant labour and now we are coming into a generation where we have to encourage everyone to stay in the work force as long as possible,” Mr. Ramlo says.

The institute’s models expect that within the decade, nearly twice as many people older than 65 will still be working full time. And the biggest change will see 10 per cent of women older than 65 working, up from 5 per cent today. For men over 65, 18 per cent will be working daily, up from 12 per cent currently.

But that increase alone is not going to provide enough extra workers to sustain growth. “By 2017, it’s inevitable that we either have a slower growing economy or we increase immigration substantially,” says David Foot, director of Footwork Consulting Inc. in Toronto and author of Boom Bust and Echo 2000: Profiting from the Demographic Shift in the New Millennium.

To meet the shortfall, he sees employers pressing the federal government to boost the current immigration level of about 230,000 a year to 300,000 or more annually.

And where will those immigrants come from? That’s an excellent question, because countries around the developed world will be battling the same demographic challenges. There will be growing competition for talent in Japan, the United States and the European Union. And China and India, which have been prime sources of skilled immigrants, will offer more opportunities for such workers as their economies grow, says Sharif Khan, vice-president of human resources for Microsoft Canada.

Mr. Khan believes there will still be large pools of educated, skilled immigrants in China and India that can be lured to Canada. Meanwhile, the Pacific Rim and Latin America, which have higher birth rates than Canada, will be larger sources of workers. But employers will have to make more effort to attract them, Mr. Khan predicts.

“In the past, it was assumed that people were coming to Canada anyway, so why should employers give them anything to help them relocate? In the future, employers will likely have to offer incentives to get people to come and work for them,” Mr. Khan says.

The increasing flow of immigrants will make large, diverse cities even bigger, Mr. Foot predicts. “Immigrants tend to head to cities and then a rise in immigration levels will see them mostly going to Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and probably Calgary.” This could require recruiting efforts in other cities such as Edmonton and Ottawa, which in the past have not been as attractive to immigrants.

Meanwhile, Atlantic Canada and Saskatchewan will continue to face migration of their citizens to other provinces, despite the creation of more energy jobs in these provinces, Mr. Foot says.

However, smaller centres and regions could get a boost as aging baby boomers escape urban centres to towns and to the East and West Coasts in search of a slower pace of life and lower housing costs, he suggests. With the help of technology, they may continue to work as part-time employees or as consultants, Mr. Foot predicts.

All these trends will require employers and managers to become more adaptable to deal with an increasing mix of ages.

“Flexibility will be key to keeping older workers on the job. In the past, companies have been reluctant to offer flexible work arrangements because they can be difficult to administer, but they will have to find ways to offer them,” Mr. Foot says.

In managing younger workers, peer recognition and the ability to provide interesting and motivational work will be an increasing factor in retaining talent, Mr. Khan predicts. “Young workers appreciate the idea of a ‘cool’ workplace, so there will be more emphasis on work environments that are more visually attractive and include the ability to give back to the community, which is a larger expectation of Gen Y,” he says.

Increasing female participation in areas that women didn’t consider in the past represents a significant opportunity, Mr. Khan says. For example, less than 30 per cent of workers in the information technology industry are women. “That is in part because of societal conditioning that IT is not a place for women.

“We need to reach out to young women to tell them IT is not just an industry for technology geeks but there are jobs in technical, marketing and sales that are dynamic for women,” Mr. Khan says.

Employees are also going to be attracted by opportunities to continue upgrading of their skills to stay up-to-date in the rapidly changing workplace, Mr. Khan says. But he doesn’t expect this will mean that more people will drop out of the work force to go back to school. “Companies will have to give more financial support to continuing education and will have to arrange schedules so employees can get the professional designations and skill sets they will need,” he says.

So there is a lot of change to accomplish in a short time, but the experts say they are optimistic that if employers start planning now, the group portrait of the work force of the future will show that Canada has met the challenge.

“I think Canada is just amazing as a place to attract talent, and the work force in 2017 will be well able to compete with the rest of the world,” Mr. Foot concludes.

Aging of the work force

18% — Percentage of men age 65 and older who will be working in 2017, compared with 12 per cent in 2006

10% — Percentage of women age 65 and older who will be working in 2017, compared with 5 per cent in 2006

4% — Number of people older than 65 who will be working in 2017, compared with 2 per cent in 2006

Urban Futures Institute