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boomer_ice_cream.jpg

The oldest baby boomers are turning 65 this year, making retirement the next major transition for Canada's largest and most influential cohort. In the 1950s, when many were born, baby products took off. In the 1980s, as they settled into their careers, the housing market exploded. Now, as they segue into retired life, there's going to be huge demand for products and services that help them do so.

Since there are so many boomers - almost 10 million in Canada - they're used to putting their own stamp on things. Retirement won't be an exception; this isn't a generation that's interested in spending their older years in a rocking chair. "They see retirement as a period of renewal," says Sherry Cooper, executive vice-president and chief economist at BMO Financial Group and author of The New Retirement: How It Will Change Our Future. "It's a process, as opposed to a fixed date."

Many boomers are already opting to slow down without leaving the workforce entirely - and the trend will only gain momentum in the years to come. A recent Harris/Decima poll found that 69% of Canadians plan to continue working after retirement age; most by choice, but some by financial necessity. Their work may entail anything from telecommuting in their current jobs to finding part-time employment, offering consulting services or pursuing a new field entirely. This gradual approach to retirement creates certain needs in the marketplace, many of which are currently underserved.

Boomers aren't the only ones who want to see themselves working past 65. Employers also want to hold on to their most seasoned, well-connected employees. Shannon Bowen-Smed, president of Calgary-based HR firm BOWEN Workforce Solutions, says it takes three new workers to replace one knowledgeable and skilled mature worker if a company wants to maintain its current productivity. And with a labour shortage looming, many employers are catering to older workers today to avoid being short-staffed tomorrow. "Employers have to think differently," says Bowen-Smed. "Boomers want more flexibility."

Flexibility is essential for older workers, whose aging bodies mean they probably won't want to or be able to work the same hours they've been putting in, says David Foot, demographer, economist and author of Boom, Bust and Echo. Also, there's a good chance they have elderly parents to care for and young grandchildren they want to spend time with.

Semi-retirees will be looking for some help with adjusting. For example, says Foot, there will be a need for customized financial planning that factors in their new work situations - an area he says is underserved: "Most financial planners assume you'll retire full-time."

However, the most promising opportunities are in helping employers get used to the realities of the new workforce. To accommodate the needs of semi-retirees, says Bowen-Smed, "Companies will have to take a look at everything, including culture, processes and policies." Her firm offers training and consulting services to help businesses make themselves more accommodating to older workers. This year, it hopes to roll out a transition program for people of retirement age. The program - to be paid for by employers who want to keep their older employees happy - will coach boomers through the retirement process to help them figure out their next steps. It will also help them identify what kind of training or education they may require to give them an edge in whatever role they choose to pursue.

There will be big demand for firms that can help semi-retired workers set up home offices. Tech-wary boomers might also need tech-support specialists to call on for everything from basic computer troubleshooting to installing complex home networks.

Companies are also going to need to update their health and dental benefits plans to factor in the new cohort of working seniors. "Most workplace benefits stop at 65 on the assumption that people will be retiring by then," says Susan Eng, vice-president for advocacy at CARP, an association that advances the interests of older Canadians. With more people working past 65, there may be a big opportunity for customized benefits plans that take older workers into consideration, or consultants who can help companies provide the most cost-efficient benefits to their post-65 workers.

Whatever the nature of your retirement-supporting efforts, sheer economies of scale give you a good shot at success. With almost one-third of Canadians preparing for this life transition, even semi-retirees with modest incomes represent a potentially lucrative cohort, says Eng: "If you customize your offerings, even with a low profit margin, you have huge volume potential."

Information is current as of the original date of publication.

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