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Seniors wanted

In Canada, more people over the age of 65 are choosing to work part or even full-time. Can senior workers still be valuable employees for credit unions?

Last fall, Tochi Sandhu celebrated his 78th birthday. The auspicious event wasn’t — unlike many people who have reached this age — a break from the mundane routine of retirement. Rather, it was another notch in a remarkable career: Sandhu can now boast 61 years of employment — 29 of those in the credit union system.

Why is Sandu still coming to work, Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm, at First West Credit Union (250,000 members, $11 billion in assets), based in Langley, BC? Is he a workaholic? Is he an anomaly? The answer to both of those questions is “no.” And the answer is a denifite “yes” to the query: is he an invaluable staff member — despite being on the cusp of 80?

Sandhu is part of a growing number of Canadians who are choosing to work — voluntarily — past 65.
This was Canada’s traditional age of retirement until the late 1990s before a series of landmark court cases challenged what many saw as age discrimination under human rights legislation. In 2015, Statistics Canada reported that more than one million people, or just under 20 percent of Canadians aged 65 and older, worked at some point during the year. That is nearly double the number of seniors who worked in 1995. Another Statistics Canada study from 2017 indicated that seniors with
a bachelor’s degree or higher, as well as those without private retirement income, were more likely to work beyond conventional retirement age.

What can such senior workers contribute to a credit union? In Sandu’s case, he has brokered more than $1 billion in loans without any bad debt or loss and won the Top Commercial Lender award for more than 10 years from Envision Financial, a division of First West. For Sandhu, working more than a decade beyond conventional retirement age isn’t about the money. Rather, it is an extension of his life philosophy that boils down to “honesty, discipline, respect for others and hard work leading to a healthy and happy life.”

Longer career trajectory

The saying, “live to work or work to live” is too simplistic a notion for the complex social and economic factors that determine individuals’ career and work choices as well as their retirement plans. “It would be a mistake to think that older Canadians work longer simply because they need or want the extra money,” says Daniel Béland of the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Sociology. “The sense of fulfillment, the personal interactions and the social status associated with one’s job are clear factors,” says Béland, a Canada Research Chair in Public Policy. “For many people, work is an integral part of their personal and social identity.”

But, as the Fourth Industrial Revolution — Industry 4.0 — with its cloud computing, articial intelligence, automation and cognitive computing bears down upon us, how can the skills of our elders hold relevance for credit unions? Workplace veterans, says Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the Wharton University of Pennsylvania, can be invaluable. Motivated by social contact more than money, Cappelli says, they know their customers, are loyal to their employer and are more active in their community.

Seniors are productive

Yet, despite such assets as experience and good judgment — as well as evidence showing seniors are generally as productive or even more so than younger employees — the workforce can be discriminatory towards those who are sporting grey hair and hard-earned wrinkles. This, says Cappelli, doesn’t acknowledge the value that older workers bring to an organization. “Every aspect of job performance gets better as we age,” Cappelli says.

Sandhu says that he isn’t motivated simply by the day-to-day pleasure of engaging with members that keeps him working at First West. The credit union has a supportive culture along with “inspiring leadership that yields retention of staff and stability.” It is this job satisfaction, he says, that motivates staff to “carry on working and deliver their best.”

From Sandhu’s perspective, senior workers and credit unions can be a win-win scenario. “Together we all succeed. ◊