Older workers key to economy

Ottawa extends program aimed at 55-to-64 set

The federal government announced new funding Wednesday to extend the Targeted Initiative for Older Workers in B.C., saying the province's aging demographic will play a key role in dealing with looming labour shortages.

Federal Human Resources Minister Diane Finley handed over $6.5 million that will see the program continue until March 2014. It assists unemployed workers age 55 to 64 stay connected to the job market by paying for training and upgrading skills.

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"We believe it's absolutely critical that we address the challenge of labour and skill shortages," Finley said during a press conference at the Vancouver Island Technology Park in Saanich.

"That's why we need to ensure older workers who want to work are given all the support they need to adapt their skills and return to work."

To date, more than $30.6 million in federal and provincial funding has been made available through the program in B.C. and more than 4,000 older workers have been retrained or had their skills upgraded.

Across the country, more than $250 million has been spent with 18,500 unemployed older workers in Canada being retrained for new careers. The program, which has been operating for six years, targets communities with less than 250,000 people.

Finley said some older workers living in smaller centres have felt more of the impact of the economic downturn as manufacturing facilities - often the largest employer in regions - closing or cutting back.

"And asking someone [older] to transition to a new job can be a real challenge," she said.

"This program helps individuals 55-64 who have lost their jobs to get the skills they need to get back into the workforce."

When asked why the government chooses to fund retraining rather than offer businesses incentives to hire older workers, Finley said they have taken a variety of approaches to get older workers back into the workforce.

"In many cases, at that age, many of them haven't had to look for a job in 20 years or more and may not have the job search skills," she said.

"And a lot of the time the project works in conjunction with industry to make sure employers are aware of the skills and talents people have."

The program is administered by the provincial government. Murray Coell, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, said the additional funding means 700 more people in B.C. will get skills training.

"We expect to have one million job openings in B.C. by 2020, so we have to make sure we put people with the right skills in the right sectors in the right areas in our province," he said.

"And leveraging the skills of older workers by helping them re-tool their skills is one of best ways to [do that]." aduffy@timescolonist.com

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