We should have seen it coming

Ruth Griffiths

The current labour shortages across Canada should not come as a surprise. My generation, the Baby Boomers, flooded the labour market but now we are retiring, leaving gaps in the labour pool. For more than a decade, economic forecasters have warned us about the looming labour crisis. For example, a 2015 article in the Globe and Mail begins: “With more than one-third of the workforce in the U.S. expected to be more than 50 years of age by 2022…” Well, guess what, it’s 2022 and some people are surprised that we are running out of workers.
Way back when, I recall a graphic illustration of the labour shortage. It showed a blue collar worker, marching off to work with a large lunch box carrying several people, most of them grey-haired like me. In Canada, taxpayers fund the social programs that glue this country together. With fewer people paying taxes, the scales have tipped.
When seniors retire, they take with them their lived experience. Many worked for the same business for most of their working life. They take with them the corporate memory. The older workers often have a stabilizing effect on the business and are less likely to jump ship at a moment’s notice. However older workers often have more health issues that diminish their productivity. Not every older person is sick. Baby Boomers are living longer and healthier lives. They can be just as productive as their younger workmates, sometimes even more productive because they work smarter, not harder.
One quarter of Canadians are now 65 or older, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are no longer engaged in the workforce. Even if they are fully retired, many seniors still pay income tax. (However, I was unable to find Canadian statistics on the ages of those who do pay income tax.)
A government article about immigration (canada.ca) from 2020 states: “With each passing year, fewer workers are paying ever-higher benefits to an ever-larger number of retirees. If it weren’t for immigrants, employers would have trouble finding enough qualified workers to fill available jobs. This is because Canadians are living longer and having fewer children. More people are retiring, and there are fewer students in schools. As a result, the pool of Canadian-born existing and potential workers is limited.”
At a time when we need more immigrants than ever, the pandemic and the lethargy of the immigration process have combined to reduce the number of newcomers to Canada. Canada chooses as immigrants only the best and brightest and our country is made richer by their presence. They not only contribute their labour and expertise, they also add to the rich tapestry of cultures which is Canada.
We should have seen it coming of course, but the labour crunch is a stark reality. The world was knocking on our door and we didn’t let them in. Today, immigration is a vital element of a vibrant and growing Canadian economy.