Nova Scotia·Special Report

Workforce crisis looms as new workers, baby boomers vie for jobs

A workforce expert said Nova Scotia and the rest of the country could be headed towards a financial crisis if things don't change in the labour market.

'They don't want to quit until the undertaker is ready to shove you in a box': fisherman

A fishing boat is shown leaving Glace Bay harbour. Older workers in the fishery are staying on the water longer as technology makes their jobs less physically demanding. (Yvonne LeBlanc-Smith/CBC)

Nova Scotia and the rest of the country could be headed toward a financial crisis if new workers keep getting squeezed out by baby boomers, a workforce expert says.

Stiff competition with older workers is keeping some young people from getting jobs in their field, says Jackie Scott, a Cape Breton University professor who has studied Canada's workforce for more than 20 years.

Scott said more people 65 years of age and older are staying at work, or returning to work.

"These days hardly anyone is feeling secure about what they've got in their pension account because we're all living longer and nobody thinks the pension in the public sector is going to go up."

Cost of living rising

Scott said the cost of basic necessities like food has increased and that's forcing some people to continue working.

"Friends who did sort of take a few years off and did the travelling thing are now are getting much more cautious because they've seen a basic 'I've got to eat to stay alive' and now this is gone up hugely," she said.

"That's not likely to change and the prices aren't likely to go down. It's just a question of how fast they'll go up."

Cape Breton University professor Jackie Scott believes there could be a financial crisis if younger workers continue having trouble finding work. (David Burke/CBC)

Scott estimates 30 per cent of people over the age of 65 in Nova Scotia are either still working, have a new career or are working under the table.

She said if this trend continues, younger workers will have to find new ways to be attractive to employers. 

'65 is only a number'

"There will also be some economic crises if younger people don't educate themselves or get themselves trained for the kinds of professions that are available to them."

Scott said new workers need to get jobs that are in demand, preferably jobs where they aren't competing with baby boomers.

Herb Nash is a fisherman in Glace Bay, he says many workers like himself are staying in the industry well past the age of 65. (David Burke/CBC)

Herb Nash, a 63-year-old fisherman in Glace Bay, is seeing young people passed over for work in his industry.

"The only way you're going to get more young people into fish is the older people got to get out and a lot of us ain't ready to get out yet. Like 65 is only a number."

He said hydraulic lifts and mechanical winches make it easier for fishermen to keep working longer.

"There's fishermen in the harbour now that's been fishing between 60 and 70 years. They're still doing the same thing they're doing now," said Nash.

"It's a little bit easier than when they started but they're still doing it and they don't want to quit until the undertaker is ready to shove you in a box."

Scott said investing in high-tech industries that rely on the global market may be a way to speed up the economy and create enough jobs for everyone.