The Canadian Jewish News
February 19, 2015
Older workers seek to reinvent themselves, by Cynthia Gasner
More and more people who would formerly have been thinking of retirement are seeking employment and upgrading their skills today as a result of cutbacks, changes in legislation and financial needs.
“In this age of contract work, the days of working for one company the whole of one’s adult working life are becoming rare,” says Charlotte Koven, who worked at Temple Sinai religious and Hebrew school in Toronto for 27 years, 15 years as the principal.
Koven, who is in her early 60s, told The CJN that when the number of students dropped, she found herself in the position of having to re-invent herself when she was nearly of retirement age.
She is not alone. “Older or mature workers are increasingly becoming a large part of the clientele of JVS,” says Lorie Shekter-Wolfson, president and CEO of JVS Toronto. “Last year, more than a third of those served by JVS were over the age of 45.”
Shekter-Wolfson notes that there is an increase in older job seekers for financial security reasons. In the past five years, Canada has done away with a mandatory retirement age. As well, many organizations are finding that employees are staying longer.
“Many businesses and organizations no longer give employees the opportunity to participate in defined benefit pension plans that would give the retiree a monthly income until the person dies.
“Overall, the issue of older workers is now starting to get some notice and is a phenomenon that is here to stay. It is an area we all know too well.”
JVS is starting to focus on employment opportunities for this population, she says. She adds that there is also an increase in the number of older workers applying for upgrading, as new skill sets are required.
Koven is a case in point. “It took courage for me to start over again,” she said.
She began doing research online, participated in discussion groups and researched activities through online platforms.
With the help of her family, she enrolled in online graduate studies. Six months ago, she received a master’s degree in counselling psychology with advanced training in bereavement, trauma and various losses.
“Transitioning successfully throughout the stages of one’s life is a skill we must all be prepared to embrace. My own experiences have taught me how to respect and support others who are learning to navigate through life’s challenges,” Koven said.
She has established a private counseling practice and she facilitates support groups and leads workshops. As well, she volunteers for the Bereaved Families of Ontario and at Princess Margaret Hospital.
Sometimes experience doesn’t seem to matter when cutbacks are made. Steven Cohen, who is in his early 60s, is married with one child. He was a software programmer for one of the largest car parts makers in the world for six years.
He was let go, and the company said it was because of lack of work, he said.
Cohen told The CJN he believes that “they wanted to get rid of people. Today, companies outsource their work and then they don’t have to pay benefits and [they] cut costs.”
Cohen went to job fairs and searched for any employment, but couldn’t find anything in his field.
“We had to sell our condo and now we are renting.”
After more than a year, with the assistance of JVS, Cohen was sent on an unpaid apprenticeship for a month.
“I got the job and I am getting paid just above minimum wage, one-third of what I was paid at my last job. I would like to find something that would pay me a reasonable salary, but so far I have not found anything.
“It is very demeaning, after 37 years of IT experience, to be doing an IT job and starting at the very bottom. It is emotionally devastating,” he said.