At the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia, a newly completed pilot project has been innovating in the field of human resources, with the help of a group of longstanding startup community members.

Aging Proactively is the Canadian affiliate of the Boston-based International Age-Friendly Institute. The non-profit is led by President Ed Leach (who with late wife and collaborator Mary Kilfoil introduced the lean startup methodology to Dalhousie University),  as well as IT executive John Hamblin, and social entrepreneur David Upton, previously of consultancy Common Good Solutions.

The project with the the Tourism Industry Association, TIANS, began two years ago this August and gave member companies the chance to pursue the designation of a Certified Age-Friendly Employer, or CAFE, according to a set of strict criteria from the Age-Friendly Institute. Many of the largest tourism-related businesses in Nova Scotia, such as Events East, Coach Atlantic and Ambassatours, are now certified.

“It’s wrapped in and around the diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives,” said Leach in an interview. “When you're young, you're visible. As you age, you become invisible, and there are no significant programs. … We’re on a mission to change that.”

With a population that is living longer and retiring later, Leach said hiring older employees can be a winning move for both companies and workers.

In 2022, the average retirement age in Canada was 64.6 — about a four percent increase compared to 1998. And while people are retiring later, they are also living longer, with the country’s average life expectancy reaching 82.6 years in 2022. Not only does working in their later years give employees a way to supplement their income, but Leach said it also offers a potentially helpful way to stay physically and mentally active, as well as socially connected.

For employers, meanwhile, older workers offer a workaround for labour markets that appear set to continue tightening as the ratio of working-age people to seniors decreases. Already the ratio has halved since the 1960s, sitting at about 3.4 working-age people for every senior, data from Statistics Canada shows.

“There is a flawed approach to aging and supporting older adults and the increasing volume of services that will be needed to support older Nova Scotians,” said Leach.

“I see it as an upstream problem … What can we do to increase the ‘health span’ of Nova Scotians while at the same time addressing the current labour shortage? One of the things we can do is to deploy and fund more programs like CAFE, which focus on retention of older workers by addressing their needs for a more flexible career, and recruiting currently retired older adults back to the workforce.”

And in many jobs, seniors’ prior work experience can offer valuable skills. For example, Ambassatours hires significant numbers of former teachers as tour guides for their communication skills and knowledge of Nova Scotia.

Now, Leach hopes the tourism sector will prove a strong foundation for the CAFE program to continue expanding. Employers that have already been certified will also have monthly check-in calls with Aging Proactively to monitor their progress.