Painting a brighter future: How a retired executive is trying to fight ageism in the workplace

In October 2018, Cliff Randall launched The Senior Touch, a spray painting business aimed at beautifying kitchens as well as giving seniors meaningful work and access to an income.

The Senior Touch is a kitchen spray painting business aimed at employing 50 to 70-year-olds

Cliff Randall, left, started The Senior Touch painting business in October 2018. Mike Paterson, right, joined about a month later. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

The light bulb moment came about a year ago, when Cliff Randall, 66, needed a replacement part for his motorcycle.

At the shop, he found a 72-year-old man polishing the equipment. They chatted, and the employee said he didn't have a pension and needed the work. 

Randall thought back to his corporate days running an executive search firm, where he'd often hear the phrase, "'Don't bring us anybody over 50,'" he said.

"[There's] a huge ageism problem in the corporate world," Randall said. 

"When I retired I thought, for the better good, I've got to come up with something that will maybe help these folks because they're going to be around for another 30 years."

After hearing from a friend having trouble finding a quality painter, Randall put two and two together.

'Many don't have cash flow'

In October 2018 he launched The Senior Touch, a spray painting business aimed at beautifying kitchens as well as giving seniors meaningful work and access to an income.

"There's no app that's going to come and paint your home so I thought it'd be very, very effective," he said.

The business trains and employs people from about 50 to 70 years old with pay ranging from $25 to $35 dollars an hour. Employees also get a share of the business.

The Senior Touch currently operates in Uxbridge, Newmarket, Aurora and Stouffville and employs five people, but Randall has hopes to expand in the near future.

"[Seniors] have equity, but many don't have cash flow," Randall said.

"There are a lot of ... men and women walking around who have not been welcome back to the corporate world and they need jobs."

Randall isn't the only one trying to increase awareness of ageism.

The City of Toronto recently launched a campaign — focused on a fake 'aging cream' — to encourage people to look at the value of older employees.

The City of Toronto launched this campaign in November to highlight how ageism impacts older employees in the workplace. (City of Toronto)

Marie Boutrogianni, former Dean of the Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson, also studied senior workers and employers as part of an aging program at the University.

She found employers often felt they had to choose between millennial or senior workers.

"You hire both for different reasons. You hire millennials because they're up-to-date on technology. Their teamwork is excellent. They have energy, and then you hire people over 60, or more, because of their wisdom and experience," she said.

Aging is also an area of interest for Michelle Silver. She's an associate professor with the University of Toronto and recently released a book called Retirement and Its Discontents, looking at the stories of workers after they left their jobs.

"For many it was really quite a terrifying experience. Some had been pushed out, some had retired because of their own ageist assumptions," she said. 

"People told me how just like crossing this threshold between, for example, 65 to 66 without retiring just felt wrong."

'You have worth'

As people are living longer than ever before, Silver said she believes both workers and companies need to start looking at age and productivity differently.

"I think it's really important that employers open up conversations ... I think they might be surprised to find that many mature workers are interested in doing new things."

That's the case for Mike Paterson, 61, an employee with The Senior Touch.

He took time off work to fight cancer a few years ago. When he found out he'd beat it, he felt too young to retire.

"You don't necessarily want to ... downsize and move to an apartment and shut down and, you know, do crossword puzzles and watch Oprah," he said.

"You want to still be out doing something, and you want to make some money and feel good at the end of the day."

For Randall, his start-up isn't just aimed at unlocking more money for seniors — it's also about giving them that same satisfaction.

"What I'm hoping that we can instill in everyone, seniors wise, is that you have worth."