They will squawk about working weekends and evenings. (Trust me.) And they may rely on someone younger to do the heavy lifting or explain the latest finicky computer gadget or social media frenzy. But they’re highly-educated, work hard, show up on time and bring enthusiasm, know-how and the wisdom of a rich and varied life experience. Such a shame, then, that they don’t know their passé composé from their plus-que-parfait, or can’t explain what makes a “chapeau” a boy, but a “guerre” a girl.
In a study released Friday, the Community Economic Development and Employability Corporation said it’s rarely easy for Quebec’s “mature workers” to find new jobs after age 45.
But their survey of employers, recruiters and job placement agencies found language skills — or the market’s perception of what’s vital to get along in the Quebec workforce these days — place an additional burden on most English-speaking job applicants.
So while the average unemployed Quebecer aged 45 and over takes 35 weeks to find a new job, it’s not at all unusual for the typical English-speaking job seeker in the same age category to be out of work
John Buck, CEDEC’s executive director, said English-speaking Montrealers are already slightly older than the Quebec average, with 38.7 per cent age 45 and older. Montreal anglos are also more likely than their francophone neighbours to be self-employed, Buck said. And while there are lots of reasons for that, “it is often out of necessity rather than opportunity,” he said.
According to the survey, three out of four employers and employment agencies said that a lack of advanced-level French, both spoken and written, was the most important criteria when deciding whether to hire older anglophone workers.
Recruiters set the bar even higher for older workers seeking promotions within a company they already worked for, with 91 per cent citing a lack of written French as the No. 1 stumbling block to advancement. What’s troubling is a short-sightedness and failure to adapt at a time when the Canadian economy is staring down an enormous shortage of skilled and non-skilled workers.
For decades, French-language training programs offered by the federal and provincial government have been reserved almost exclusively to immigrants, despite the fact that many native-born Canadians need help.
“There are some exceptions for those really struggling, but a lot of the programs are not available right now to the general population that has been born in Quebec, or born in Canada but living in Quebec for five years,” said Marianna Balakhnina, coordinator of labour force development for CEDEC. Yet she said 60 per cent of the mature workers struggling to find work that CEDEC spoke to for a preliminary study last year were born in Quebec.
“The majority of employers have indicated that they absolutely need French at advanced levels, both written and spoken. That’s why one of our recommendations is that French language skills be
accessible, not only to immigrants, but to the greater population.” Leslie Acs is executive director of La Passerelle, a non-profit career transition centre for older workers in downtown Montreal. He said many people he sees are looking to learn French or to brush up their rusty vocabulary and written skills.
“There is a want and a desire to learn French. But they are not entitled. So they have to take private training courses. Not everybody has the money. If you are unemployed, that’s a huge expense.”
“What is the cost of not taking advantage of these workers?” Kathleen Weil, the Liberal member of the National Assembly for Notre-Dame-de-Grace, asked as the report was launched on Friday.
Well, within eight years, as baby boomers retire, demographers estimate Canada will be short more than one million workers. The slide is expected to continue for the next 25 years. Barring a sudden and dramatic influx of immigrants, employers in the public and private sector will be scrambling to find reinforcements. Some of them will inevitably come from the ranks of older people who have been squeezed out of ailing industries, or retired to discover they can’t afford to live on their pensions, Quebec’s anglo “mature workers” scuffling they are just plain bored.
Will government programs and employers recognize what mature anglos have to offer, and help them hone the language skills they will need to so they can stay and thrive? Or will it give these older lifelong Quebecers another excuse to pack their bags and take this “hidden talent pool” somewhere else?