A young welder and his mentor
Do old people belong in our work places? Are they deaf and doddering, frail and underfoot? Or are they valuable contributing members of our labour force?
According to Statistics Canada, in 2015, one in five Canadians aged 65 and older, reported working during the year. This is the highest proportion recorded since the 1981 Census.
The percentage of seniors who reported working nearly doubled between 1995 and 2015, with most of the increase coming from part‑year or part‑time work.
So they are here, in our work places, no doubt about it.
Most commonly, the seniors are working in trades industries: agriculture, retail and wholesale trade managers, transport truck drivers, retail salespersons, and janitors, caretakers and building superintendents.
It happens I work in the trades industry as a shop-hand for a local fencing company. We have two senior workers, aged 68 and 69.
There is a widespread belief that seniors are not expected to be interested in
continuing to work unless it is as a volunteer. Their job is to enjoy retirement and not work.
If retirees look old enough, they may experience the stereotype of being assumed to be physically frail, hard of hearing, with poor vision and slow comprehension. Even when this stereotype is the basis for kind assistance, it can be wounding. Objects of this stereotype can feel that they are being prematurely pushed toward advanced old age.
In my experience in the workplace, none of the above stereotypes ring true.
Retirees who were industrious workers may still need to find outlets for a continuation of such energy. This may be found in part-time employment,hobbies, recreational activities, coaching, teaching, and mentoring.(https://cjc-rcc.ucalgary.ca/cjc/index.php/rcc/article/view/1546 Canadian Journal of Councelling and Psychotherapy)
This article is about the aforementioned 69-year-old who works in my shop. Let’s call him Dave. Like most seniors who are active in the labour market, Dave works part time. His shift is Monday through Thursday, 7 am to 1:30 pm. Still a hefty work schedule in my opinion.
Dave grew up on a farm in Langley, BC. He is one tough cookie. Admittedly, he is a bit hard of hearing when he chooses not to turn up his hearing aids, but he is not frail with poor vision, and he is certainly not slow either physically or mentally.
Dave oversees the shop; he oversees the welding, the fabricating, and the shipping and receiving. He has more experience in these departments than all of us younger employees put together.
I think the most important thing Dave brings to the team is quiet mentorship.
This past Friday my job task was to haul a trailer to Alkali Lake to pick up rental panels. My co-pilot was a 20-year-old man who had been working for the company for a little over a month. I asked him, “what do you think about Dave? Do you think he is too old to be working?”
The young man stiffened in his seat and said defensively, “No, not at all. Dave has taught me everything so far. He is a huge asset.” Of course, I agreed; Dave taught me everything too.
Another important thing Dave brings is the good old calm in the midst of the storm, the calm only age can master. With his worn coveralls, protruding belly, and tuft of white hair, Dave is a vision of reliability and stability. When orders are hectic and the intensity is rising, he stays focussed, even dousing the frenzy with rough humor.
One day our shop crew really dropped some balls. We were anxious and upset. We went to the lunchroom with our heads down for a break. Dave took out his old metal lunch box and bit into his sandwich.
“Well,” he said with his mouth full of bread and jam, “this isn’t the first time we’ve f-ed up!” He transferred our bad energy into laughter and refocussed us.
Dave is old school. He hates cell phones and social media and he certainly would not go for a published interview. So he will remain anonymous. But he is a real example of a senior working past the traditional 65 years of age.
Do old people belong in our work places? Yes!
I think all shops need a Dave. To provide experience, mentorship, and to be the calm response to the panic button. To provide solutions in innovative ways that can only be learned through years of trial and error.
I suggest we disregard the stereotypes.
In my experience, older people are valuable contributing members of our labour force.