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The 60-74 year olds: not a panacea for the manufacturing sector

Photo: 123RF pour Les Affaires
Photo: 123RF for Les Affaires

Source: Les Affaires | François Normand


Immigration, automation, employee sharing… Companies are relying on several solutions to mitigate the impact of the labor shortage. The use of people aged 60 to 74 is an option for the service sector. However, it is difficult to apply on a large scale to the manufacturing sector, say industry sources.

The "grey deposit", as this pool of workers is nicknamed, is little known in Quebec. Yet it brings together tens of thousands of potential employees, according to an analysis carried out earlier this year for Les Affaires by Pierre Fortin, professor emeritus of the École des sciences de la gestion de l’Université du Québec in Montreal.

However, this pool is underused, says the economist, who compared the activity rate of this age group in Quebec to that of Japan, also an aging society.

The stakes are high, because the pool of Quebec workers aged 15 to 64 will decrease from 40,000 to 56,000 people by 2031, according to an analysis published last April by the ’Institut de recherches en politiques publiques.

A pool of 287,000 workers

In 2019, people aged 60 to 74 had an activity rate of 31.4% in Quebec, according to Statistics Canada. According to Pierre Fortin's calculations, the Quebec economy could count on an additional theoretical pool of 287,000 workers if it showed the same activity rate for people aged 60 to 74 as the Japanese economy - i.e. 50.5%, according to the OECD.

The economist considers it more realistic to think of closing half of the gap of 19 percentage points between Quebec and Japan, for an activity rate of 41%. This would still generate an additional theoretical pool of 143,500 people.

Manufacturing companies that, in light of these figures, are already dreaming of partially meeting their labor needs will have to reduce their expectations, however.

Because while workers aged 60 to 74 can easily occupy positions in the service sector, where strength and physical endurance are not prerequisites, it is a completely different story in the manufacturing sector, starting with the heavy industry such as metallurgy.

“Smelters have working environments where the temperature is very high. Heatstroke is possible,” said Jean Simard, president and CEO of the Aluminum Association of Canada (AAC), which represents Alcoa, Alouette and Rio Tinto Aluminum.

You must therefore have good physical abilities to work in an aluminum smelter – abilities that decline with age, recalls Jean Simard. This is why he believes that the gray field of 60-74 year olds has limited potential in the manufacturing sector.

Louis Bégin, president of the CSN Fédération de l’industrie manufacturière, agrees. “We asked ourselves the question, but we also realized that there are physical constraints to using employees aged 60 to 74 in the manufacturing industry”, notes the one who represents workers in sectors such as metallurgy. , mining, forestry and pulp and paper.

Bypass physical constraints

For years, the Quebec government has been trying to keep Quebecers in the job market longer, for example by creating the tax credit for career extension.

Between 2012 and 2019, this policy created around 27,000 jobs on average per year in the economy as a whole among people aged 60 and over, according to an analysis by the Chaire en fiscalité et en finances publiques de l’Université de Sherbrooke.

If the improvement of this tax credit can convince people to stay longer in the labor market in services, it would however have little impact in the manufacturing sector because of the issue of physical constraints.

Louis Bégin affirms that there are still solutions to tackle this issue. Reduce the physical workload and the number of hours of people in this age group in factories, among others.

Thus, if a company wants to employ more 60-74 year olds, it can, for example, offer them positions in the shipping department. It can also review the schedules for these workers in order to offer them part-time work.

“We started this reflection, but it is very embryonic,” says Louis Bégin. According to him, this approach should also be equitable so as not to create two classes of workers in the factories, because, in terms of schedules, younger employees have their own work-family balance issues.


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