Majority of baby boomers would opt for semi-retirement if employers only allowed: poll

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The majority of working baby boomers would stay on the job longer if employers allowed them to shift into semi-retirement — but most workplaces don’t provide that option, a new survey suggests.

With unemployment in Canada at record lows and a labour shortage poised to hit critical levels when boomers hang up their hats, semi-retirement could be one way to help manage that crisis.

Since working longer puts more money in people’s wallets when they do retire, that increased spending power would benefit the economy as well.

Conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of staffing agency Express Employment Professionals, the poll found that 76 per cent of Canadian baby boomers respondents said they’d opt for a flexible work schedule if allowed, while 60 per cent would choose reduced hours with reduced benefits.

The online survey of 500 Canadian workers aged 54 to 72 suggests a disconnect between the willingness of the enormous baby boomer cohort to stick around during the labour shortage, and a lack of options for those who’d like a gradual exit from the workplace.

The survey also found that 56 per cent of respondents said they’d like to transition to a consulting-style role, if given the opportunity.

Yet only 30 per cent of the boomers surveyed said their employer offered any sort of semi-retirement option. Additionally, only 36 per cent said their employers had ever brought a former employee out of retirement.

Teresa Pitman says she’d welcome part-time work when she approaches retirement. She’s pictured here with two of her 10 grandchildren: Dexter, left, and Walter, right. (Alison Lee photo)

Teresa Pitman, who works full time as a communications co-ordinator for Family and Children Services of the Waterloo Region, says she’d welcome a semi-retirement arrangement when she’s ready to scale back. 

« I would like to be able to work here part time, and I think that I will continue to have something to contribute, » she said. « I really like the people here that I work for and that I work with. It would be really good to be able to keep that relationship going … but without it being full time. »

Rethinking all-or-nothing retirement

If Pitman wasn’t working full-time, perhaps her hours would be flexible enough to avoid poor road conditions, she says, like the blizzard she drove through on her way to work Friday. 

Her top priority: Spending time with her 10 grandchildren.

« I’d love to have the flexibility to be more available to them, » she said.

Employment experts say we may want to rethink our all-or-nothing definitions of retirement.

Jessica Culo owns several Express Employment franchises in the Edmonton area and is the Canadian spokesperson for the company, which also has locations in the U.S. and South Africa. 

Even though Alberta is still recovering from the provincial recession of 2016 and 2017, she says, even employers there can’t ignore the potential problems posed by a significant increase in retirements in as little as two years from now.

« We all know what it’s like to be in an applicant-short market: It’s expensive, it’s not fun, it inhibits growth, » Culo said. « The leaders of organizations have got to have that foresight. » 

Jessica Culo, of Express Employment Professionals, says baby boomers are willing to mentor younger staffers, but in most cases the structures and practices are just not in place to facilitate that. (Express Employment Professionals)

Putting in place semi-retirement arrangements that could help with the labour shortage will require « being more creative on the side of the employers, » she said.

That could mean allowing older staff members to work flexible hours, a shortened workweek, shorter shifts or working remotely to cut commuting time. It could also include transitioning people into consultancy roles to work on a project basis.

Making room for mentoring

Culo says all of those tools could help address another critical aspect of boomer retirement that the survey highlighted: ensuring critical knowledge doesn’t walk out the door when they do.

Only 40 cent of respondents say they’ve passed at least half of the knowledge required for their positions on to younger staff members, and 51 per cent don’t believe their employers have adequate succession plans.

Culo says boomers are willing to mentor — 82 per cent of poll respondents said as much, in fact — but in most cases they’re not doing it. « Probably because there aren’t really systems or practices or processes that allow for that. »

Rosemary Venne, an associate professor of business at the University of Saskatchewan, says ‘flexibility is not something that employers are good at.’ (University of Saskatchewan)

Part-time workers and consultants could slide nicely into mentoring and training positions, she says, but it may take a mind shift on behalf of management.

« It may mean adding to your overhead by payrolling someone to take on that purely mentorship role. »

In many cases, it won’t even have occurred to employers to extend people’s time at work through semi-retirement, says Rosemary Venne, an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s Edwards School of Business who specializes in human resources and demographics.

« Flexibility is not something that employers are good at, » she said.

Partial retirement is such an ideal thing because more and more of our self-concept is tied up in work. To give that up when you retire is difficult for some people.– Rosemary  Venne , University of Saskatchewan

A 2011 paper she penned with celebrated demographer David Foot, the author of Boom, Bust and Echo, explained that too little attention has been paid to the impact of increasing life expectancy on retirement policies.

The paper — entitled « The long goodbye » — made the case for partial retirement schemes that remove barriers to going part-time, such as pension disincentives.

That makes sense when you consider that in 1965, when the retirement age was set at 65, the average life expectancy was 71.9 years. Today average life expectancy in Canada is around 80 for men and 84 for women.

Keeping a hand in work can be good for emotional health and life satisfaction as well.

« Partial retirement is such an ideal thing, because more and more of our self-concept is tied up in work, » Venne said. « We’ve increased our educational attainment. To give that up when you retire is difficult for some people. »

In some ways, Teresa Pitman is the ideal retiree. She has spent long portions of her career as a freelancer, and as the author of 18 books about baby care, she can turn to her writing career to keep her busy, engaged and sharp.

« I have writing that I’m quite confident that will always continue. But I do know people a bit older than me who are sometimes a little bit at sea. Their life had been organized around work. I just see that they’re not quite sure what to do with themselves. »

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A majority of Canadians say their holidays are stress-free, poll says

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For many Canadians, the holiday season is time to finish last-minute shopping, get ready for a turkey dinner or two and travel to make that big family get together.

You might think the holiday season would bring pressure to get everything perfect, but a recent Forum Research poll suggests the majority of Canadians shrug off the anxieties of the festive season.

Shoppers finish their last-minute shopping at Yorkdale Mall in Toronto on Friday.
Shoppers finish their last-minute shopping at Yorkdale Mall in Toronto on Friday.  (Rick Madonik / Toronto Star)

According to the poll — which was conducted among a random sample of 1,601 people aged 18 and above — about 57 per cent of respondents say their holidays are stress-free, with just 11 per cent saying it’s a very stressful time.

That result “may come as a surprise to anyone shopping on December 24,” said Lorne Bozinoff, founder and president of Forum Research, in a news release.

This is, after all, also the time of year for self-help guides on how to manage all that holiday stress.

Many Canadians simply consider the holiday season as a time to be with their families, Bozinoff said. According to the poll, more than 80 per cent of respondents said they’ll spend the holidays with their families, while only 5 per cent said they’ll be by themselves.

Read more: Twelve hacks of Christmas to minimize holiday stress

The poll found an overwhelming majority of Canadians (88 per cent) say they enjoy the holiday season. That’s true for 93 per cent of young Canadians, 90 per cent of women, 92 per cent of those with a post-secondary degree, and the vast majority Canadians of all incomes, from coast to coast.

Just 10 per cent of Canadians say they will not celebrate the holiday season, according to the poll.

By contrast, Canadians are relatively lukewarm on ringing in the New Year. About 65 per cent of respondents said they plan to celebrate New Year’s Eve, with 41 per cent of them planning to be at home with friends and 9 per cent planning to go out to a bar or restaurant.

The poll also found slightly more than half of Canadians plan to spend pretty much the same amount of money this holiday season as they did last year. 32 per cent of respondents say they’ll spend less than last year, while only 11 per cent plan to spend more, the poll found.

About a third of those saying they’ll spend less this year cite financial reasons, while 26 per cent say the holiday season isn’t just about spending more.

Gilbert Ngabo is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo

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NSTU says poll shows majority of Nova Scotians critical of province’s handling of public education – Halifax

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The Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) commissioned a poll that shows the majority of Nova Scotians are critical of the province’s handling of public education.

The poll was conducted for the union by Corporate Research Associates (CRA).

READ MORE: N.S. Liberals appoint education advisory council after dissolving elected boards

The poll found that 60 per cent of those surveyed believe the government’s actions have a negative quality on public education. Those actions, according to NSTU, include imposing a contract on teachers and eliminating elected school boards.

The survey also found 83 per cent of those polled have a favourable opinion of public school teachers.

Seventeen per cent think the government is doing a good or excellent job of managing the public school system, while 75 per cent rate their performance as fair or poor.

READ: Decision to axe N.S. school boards, a reminder of power of cabinet: Charter expert

Forty-three per cent believe replacing elected school boards with a single advisory council has had a negative impact on student achievement, while 23 per cent see it as positive.

The survey was conducted by phone in October and November, and the sample size was 400 randomly selected Nova Scotians. The poll has a margin of error of ± 4.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The full CRA report can be found here. 

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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TTC spent $26 million to save 30 aging streetcars. But majority of the vehicles are still in the garage in need of more repairs

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Less than one year after the TTC spent $26 million on what it billed as a major maintenance program to extend the life of 30 of its older streetcars, the vehicles remain so unreliable that the agency can only get two or three into service every day, the Star has learned.

The program began in 2015 and was supposed to help keep 30 of the aging streetcars on the road for up to an additional 10 years. But despite exceeding the program’s budget, the TTC fell far short of its target and did work on just 20 cars.

A TTC employee works on the steel floor of an articulated light rail vehicle (ALRV), built in 1987. The TTC spent $26 million in an attempt to extend the life of 30 of its older streetcars, yet the vehicles remain so unreliable the agency can only get two or three into service every day, the Star has learned.
A TTC employee works on the steel floor of an articulated light rail vehicle (ALRV), built in 1987. The TTC spent $26 million in an attempt to extend the life of 30 of its older streetcars, yet the vehicles remain so unreliable the agency can only get two or three into service every day, the Star has learned.  (Bernard Weil / Toronto Star file photo)

The work that was done failed to significantly extend the life of the cars, and as of this month on any given day the majority of the streetcars, which are known as articulated light rail vehicles (ALRV’s), are stuck in a garage in need of further repairs.

Although the ongoing poor reliability of the ALRV’s has been publicly disclosed, the TTC board, which provides civilian and council oversight of the transit agency, was never formally informed that the program had so badly failed to meet its initial objectives.

“That’s really bad,” said Councillor John Campbell (Ward 4, Etobicoke Centre), a TTC board member, when informed of the outcome of the program on Monday.

“I’m surprised that they would have spent so much money and gone ahead with that kind of expenditure without certain assurances that more of (the streetcars) could have been put on the road.”

Read more:

TTC starts shipping new streetcars to Quebec for repairs

First Eglinton Crosstown LRT vehicle to be ready in November, Bombardier says

One year in data deems King St. pilot project a success

Campbell said that “whenever there’s that kind of waste” it “raises a red flag,” and the TTC board should have been told the repair program hadn’t worked out as planned.

“At some point, somebody in the chain of command should have said, we’re wasting our money here,” he said.

Brad Ross, a spokesperson for the TTC, said the agency “did get some additional years out of the ALRV’s based on the work performed — more so than if we did nothing.”

But he stated that at the start of the overhaul program the vehicles had already reached the end of their intended service life and “the program’s intent was to keep them on the road, safely.”

He said that as the repairs progressed the TTC realized more work than anticipated was required, and the agency determined “it was better to work with Bombardier to get new streetcars in service here as quickly as possible and to rely on buses to supplement streetcar routes in the interim than to spend any additional money” fixing the ALRV’s.

The TTC has two types of older, so-called “legacy” streetcars: smaller vehicles called Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (CLRVs) and the larger ALRV’s, which are used on busier streetcar routes and are recognizable by their accordion-style middle sections.

The TTC bought 52 of the 23-metre ALRVs in 1984, and they were supposed to last about 30 years. In May of 2015, as Bombardier fell behind schedule in delivering new vehicles to replace the older fleet, the TTC secured approval to overhaul 30 of the old ALRV’s in order to extend their service life. The repairs began in June 2015, and were supposed to be complete by the end of 2017.

The articulated light rail vehicles (ALRVs) are distingishable by their accordian-style middle sections.
The articulated light rail vehicles (ALRVs) are distingishable by their accordian-style middle sections.  (Bernard Weil/Toronto Star file photo)

The life extension program was supposed to help ensure the cars could last another decade, although they would require additional work over that period as some streetcar components like wheels and trucks need to be revamped every five years.

The TTC trumpeted the return to service on the 501 Queen route of the first of the overhauled cars in an October 2015 press release, which described it as the initial ALRV to “undergo a major life-extension overhaul that will improve reliability and ensure continued, safe operation of the streetcar fleet.”

But an internal TTC tracking document obtained by the Star shows the agency quickly fell behind on the planned repairs. By the final months of 2017, the last year of the program, it had completed work on just 17 of the 30 cars.

By that time, the document shows, the agency had already burned through almost all of the $24.5-million program budget, having spent $22.8 million.

According to Ross, the TTC spokesperson, the agency eventually completed work on 20 cars, at a cost of $26 million, but decided at the end of 2017 not to do more work on the ALRV’s, including the remaining 10 vehicles that had been selected for the overhaul program.

Richard Wong, who was appointed the TTC’s head of streetcar maintenance in April 2017, midway through the repair program, said the overhaul work should never have been described as a life-extension program because the repairs it entailed didn’t include work on the electrical systems that was required to keep the cars operating in the long run.

Instead they focused on work like repainting and repairing corrosion on the streetcar bodies, replacing flooring, and refurbishing pneumatic air systems, propulsion motors and braking systems. Work was also done on the vehicles’ wheels and axles, suspension and structural beams.

Wong said that falls under the kind of more routine “state-of-good-repair” maintenance that keeps vehicles in good condition, but doesn’t extend their service life.

“I don’t know why it was advertised as a life extension,” he said.

“What you’re seeing (now) is that we have very low vehicle availability because they’re always breaking down on the electrical side of things.”

Copies of three of the TTC’s daily streetcar availability reports obtained by the Star and dated between Oct. 31 and Nov. 5 2018 show the agency planned to deploy 10 ALRV’s on each day, but only two or three were available for service each morning. Most of the remainder are listed as unavailable due to “corrective maintenance.” Wong acknowledged the numbers are typical of the current ALRV reliability.

A newly painted articulated light rail vehicle (ALRV) streetcar awaits final repairs. As a result of delays by Bombardier to deliver new streetcars on time, the TTC decided to overhaul 30 streetcars to keep them in service. It eventually completed work on 20 cars, at a cost of $26 million.
A newly painted articulated light rail vehicle (ALRV) streetcar awaits final repairs. As a result of delays by Bombardier to deliver new streetcars on time, the TTC decided to overhaul 30 streetcars to keep them in service. It eventually completed work on 20 cars, at a cost of $26 million.  (Bernard Weil/Toronto Star file photo)

Their unavailability means the TTC has even fewer vehicles to make up for the delays to the delivery of its new streetcar fleet, leading to worse service on the busy streetcar routes on which ALRVs are supposed to be deployed. The TTC has been supplementing some streetcar routes with buses, and now plans to retire all of the ALRV’s by around 2020.

Wong didn’t dispute the idea that the program wasn’t a good use of taxpayer money.

“We could have done a better job of planning this, to be honest,” he said. “Planning some more electrical work would have probably been prudent, but that would have also cost more money as well.”

In order to comply with provincial accessibility legislation, the TTC has to retire all of its old-model streetcars, which aren’t accessible, by 2025. The new low-floor streetcars supplied by Bombardier are accessible.

Under the terms of a 2012 agreement, the company was supposed to have delivered 148 of the cars by the end of last year. Due to well-documented production problems, it only delivered the 106th vehicle last month. Bombardier has met revised delivery targets this year, however, and says it will supply all 204 of the new cars by the end of 2019, as scheduled.

The TTC is suing Bombardier for costs the agency has incurred as a result of the delivery delays. It isn’t clear whether the $26 million spent on the ALRV repairs could be recouped as part of those claims.

Ross said the agency hopes to announce a settlement with the company “in the coming weeks.”

Don Peat, a spokesperson for Mayor John Tory, said the money spent on the ALRV repairs “is another example of the costs the TTC has incurred trying to keep streetcars on the road while we wait for Bombardier to deliver the streetcars we have ordered.

“This is why we need the new TTC streetcars and why the Mayor has pushed for them to be delivered as quickly as possible.”

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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