In this week’s budget, the Liberal Government will announce that they are returning the eligibility age for OAS back to 65. In recent years, the previous Conservative government had shifted the eligibility age to 67, mirroring moves in many other countries.
Since Prime Minister Trudeau declared this intention, first in the federal campaign and then in this recent Bloomberg News interview, I’ve been asked by many to react.
Most assume that Challenge Factory, with its focus on workforce engagement for people in their 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond would resist this change to lower in effect Canada’s “retirement” age.
Whether the age of eligibility is set at 65 or 67 or 71 is irrelevant if the government doesn't also take steps to foster older workers and an intergenerational workforce. Eligibility does not necessarily correlate to when Canadians will choose to leave the workforce and the danger in this new announcement is that the headline remains focused on age 65 as a targeted age for people to make their exit.
We are optimistic that this move marks the beginning of new and beneficial discussions about ageism, ageing and the workforce.
New definition needed for the word "retirement"
The meaning of the word “retirement” has significantly changed in recent years. No longer is pension or benefit eligibility tied to a withdrawal from the workforce. Indeed, the 2015 SunLife Unretirement Index found that the average age of retirement in Canada had dropped over the last few years while the number of people over the age of 65 reporting that they are working had increased. People today are retiring into new phases of their career and continuing to work.
In his remarks, Trudeau indicates that responding to Canada’s workforce demographics and the impact of longevity is more complex than raising the age from the traditional 65 to 67. Indeed, in other jurisdictions, such a change has been accompanied by systemic and wide-reaching initiatives that facilitate vibrant workforce engagement at all ages. Simply changing the eligibility age does nothing to create new career paths, identify hidden talent pools or expand intergenerational capacity. It does not require new thinking about later life productivity, nor provide the tools for individuals to make meaningful changes that are supported by market opportunity.
Simply put, shifting the age of eligibility does not help Canada capitalize on the longevity dividend of an ageing workforce.
Learning from other jurisdictions
In February, I was privileged to meet Jackie Wong, CEO of Temasek Trust, who has been part of introducing Singapore’s $3B Action Plan on Successful Ageing. This plan innovates at the individual, community and city levels with a new "National Silver Academy” as well as intergenerational policies, programs and focus. It also challenges traditional language. Instead of focusing on a “retirement” age, with the assumption that this age marks a withdrawal from the workforce, it focuses on eligibility criteria for “re-employment” programs that support people into Legacy Careers® that include re-engagement in their work and communities.
We welcome Federal recognition of the untapped potential of older workers. We support finding innovative approaches to addressing intergenerational opportunity in a systemic way that drives productivity and engagement. We are pioneers in this field and welcome new and meaningful partnerships.
Healthy ageing and productivity
There are significant business and personal benefits to changing how we think about age when it comes to the world of work and the first step is to combat systemic ageism in our public policy, corporate practices, individual mindset and media reporting.
We are a country focused on increasing its overall productivity. Yet, it is often assumed that the population should be out of the workforce for between 1/3 and 1/4 of lifespan. These views seem counterproductive, especially when all evidence demonstrates interest, aptitude and benefit for people to remain engaged well past 65 or even 67.
As Dr. Nasreen Khatri of the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest indicates, “addressing ageing is not the same thing as working with the aged. We are all ageing.”
Indeed, Canada needs workforce policy that contemplates active engagement and involvement well past our 60s. We are hopeful that this budget announcement is just the first step to more systemic and strategic solutions.
Workers of all ages deserve nothing less.