IT professionals say the Ontario government’s proposal to scrap the mandatory retirement age of 65 may give them more options, but it’s unlikely to make their careers any longer.
Ontario Labour Minister Chris Bentley released a discussion paper which outlines why the province wants to end
mandatory retirement and announced a series of public consultations on the subject to take place in select cities over the course of next month. Under the Ontario Humans Rights Code, employers are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of age, but for the purposes of employment, “”age”” is defined as being 18 years or older but less than 65. Companies can therefore force workers to leave their jobs after 65.
According to Minto Roy, vice-president of Canadian operations at career management firm Bernard Haldane Associates, the proposal comes at a time when many IT professions are reconsidering their retirement plans in the wake of corporate downsizing, offshore outsourcing and spending cuts.
“”You have professionals out there that are not working, that are underemployed, that would have never dreamed five or six years ago during the boom that they would be unemployed,”” he said. “”You’ve got a lot of market crunch happening.””
According to Statistics Canada’s most recent labour force survey, only 4.5 per cent of Canadian IT workers are more than 55 years old. That’s a very minor increase over 2000, when the same group made up 3.7 per cent. The largest proportion falls in the 25-34 demographic, at 35.9 per cent.
Julie McMullin, a professor in the sociology department at the University of Western Ontario, is working on a research project that will examine attitudes towards age in the IT sector. She said there may be good reasons why there aren’t many senior citizens in the data centre.
“”We found that without exception the IT sector is extremely young, younger than the labour force as a whole,”” she said. “”It seems to me that there are barriers in place for people to continue working in IT as they age.””
One of the big issues is how the IT sector imposes tight deadlines for contracts and the extreme penalties employees suffer for not meeting them, McMullin said. “”They make it so that you have to at some point in the course of year work very long hours in a day, which of course isn’t conducive to other issues such as parenting,”” she said.
Several technology professionals said they had no intention of retiring any later than they have to.
“”Well, I hope I’m not going to be working at 65,”” laughed Ian Montgomery, IT manager at IBT Fund Services in Toronto. “”I think it’s good that people have the right to choose to work longer if they want to, but it’s really something that has to be decided on an individual level.””
Andrew Schaper, a 40-year-old director of telecom at York Region, Ont., said the subject of retirement doesn’t come up much among his colleagues.
“”It’s not something I’m considering a lot. I mean, who knows what the long-term future holds?”” he said. “”It’s something that’s kind of far out there.””
Torin Rumball, IT manager at WH Stuart Mutuals Ltd., in Unionville, Ont., agreed. “”I’m only 30. I feel like I’m just getting started,”” he said.
Roy maintained that there are a lot more older people who thought they were going to be able to retire but who now can’t, thanks to some of the financial upheaval the industry has experienced. .
“”They used to also have a portfolio — let’s say you worked at Nortel, and had a portfolio worth half a million in Nortel stock,”” he said. “”Their thought process five years ago was, make another $100,000 for the next three or four years, their stock will go to $750,000, cash out, buy the cottage and they were done.””
Now those stocks are worth $42,000, but their bills haven’t changed, Roy added. “”They realize now they’re going to have to work until 75.””
McMullin said she doubted the end of mandatory retirement would have much impact on most IT workers.
“”There’s absolutely no question in my mind that if people want to work past the age of 65 that they should be allowed to do so,”” she said. “”But as far as the IT sector is concerned, our evidence is that people are leaving long before.””
Montgomery said a certain degree of turnover is healthy in any industry, but particularly in IT.
“”Sometimes you really need those fresh faces coming in,”” he said, “”because that’s where the new ideas come from.””