Feature

Why This N.B. Retiree Started A Business That Helps People With Life Transitions

Lorne Brett. Image: Submitted

SAINT JOHN – Lorne Brett had worked in the auto industry for 45 years before he retired in 2013. He’s made his way up from pumping gas and sourcing parts to owning multiple car dealerships in the Saint John area.

Upon retirement, he sold his business to his son and Brett slowly stepped back from operations. While the business changed hands successfully, “it was me that didn’t do so well with the transition,” Brett admitted.

“The people who operate with passion and enjoy what they’re doing…don’t transition really, really well into retirement because they’re used to routines and feedback from the business and customers that are very, very valuable,” he said. “So when that job ends, the question becomes, well, what are you going to do next.”

He says having his finances aligned and many hobbies are great, but “it doesn’t deal with the emotional [aspect], the self respect and self confidence that you gain from a successful career.”

“What I didn’t have was that sense of accomplishing something, of contributing in some way to making things happen, which was kind of what was driving me for the last 40 some years. With that gone, the word that just haunts me is the word ‘irrelevant’.”

Brett looked for a community of people who felt the same way. When he couldn’t find one, he created Shaping Purpose in 2014.

The company provides courses to help people find clarity and direction through major transitions in their lives, whether that’s retirement, career change, military-to-civilian life, divorce, loss of a loved one or where to go post-secondary education. The business has had hundreds of clients over the years, and it goes where there’s a need, anywhere in the country.

Brett says running the business has “filled in that hole that was bothering me.” He’s found relevance in helping others figure out their next stage in life, by drilling down on their gifts, passions and values, and he wants others to speak up if they feel that their retirement isn’t as enjoyable as they had expected.

Like Brett, many retired professionals want to maintain a level of productivity, whether part-time, full-time or on a project basis.

Nova Scotia-based BoomersPlus has approximately 9,000 older or retired professionals in its database that wants to be connected to job opportunities.

Perhaps, New Brunswick organizations that aren’t already tapping into this talent pool of so-called “unretirees” and those who have had long careers but are being replaced by technology can change up their workforce plan and integrate different kinds of workers.

Perhaps employers should take a closer look at the motivations and passions of its employees, Brett noted.

“It’s a hateful thing to think that those people go to work and don’t enjoy what they’re doing. So if a person gets a second chance to come back into the industry and work, it’s essential that they find some position that gives them pleasure and a sense of accomplishment,” he said.

“From the employer’s perspective, the more aligning they can do with having the employee in a role that they enjoy, they’re going to do a lot better job and likely want to be a long-term member of that team.”

Nearly a quarter of the province’s labour force is now 55 and older, an increase from less than 10 percent two decades ago, according to Statistics Canada.

A report by the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council also found that while in 1990 there were 20 new workers entering the region’s labour market for every 10 retiring, now there’s only seven. It’s no surprise that around half of the businesses APEC surveyed reported challenges with recruiting and retaining workers.

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Economist Richard Saillant said if it weren’t for the “extraordinarily important contribution of immigration,” New Brunswick’s core working population (ages 25-54) would have seen a larger decline.

New Brunswick is the only province outside of Newfoundland and Labrador, which has been hard hit by its high debt level and the slowdown of the oil industry, to see a decline since 1999 in the number of people aged 25-54.

In 1999, there were more than 343,000 people in that age group in New Brunswick. That fell steadily and reached around 290,000 in 2019.

“It’s certainly not comparable to what we would have had without a ramp-up of immigration but it’s still a decline,” he said. “It just goes to show how our demographic situation has been so poor for so long that there’s an inertia into the whole system, which means that we’ve been losing people to other provinces and not having as much immigration for so long, that it takes a lot of time before you can actually recover from something like that.”

Meanwhile, the population is aging quickly. The number of people aged 55 to 64 increased in New Brunswick from around 101,000 in 2008 to nearly 124,700 last year. The median age of a New Brunswick voter was 52 in 2019, that’s a five-year increase from the previous decade.

But there is hope because the province has been making progress with immigration over the last few years, Saillant said. Inter-provincial migration is also now at a net positive.

“I’m not willing at this point to say that New Brunswick’s labour force is declining. Yes, it is aging, but so far, immigration is working – a combination of immigration and the fact that fewer people are leaving the province,” he said.

Immigration is not growing the labour force, but it helped prevent a weaker workforce growth than today.

“Jobs are available, people are coming in, whether this will be maintained is a difficult thing to say. We do have to worry about that because, in the past, labour force growth accounted for almost 50 per cent of our economic growth… This is no longer the case,” he said, noting that the New Brunswick and Canadian economies are “very tight” because they’ve been growing for a while.

But the older population (55 to 64) is also showing “very encouraging” signs in terms of labour participation. Over the last decade or so, Saillant said the core working population has moved to include ages of 25-64.

“Beyond the age of 64, this is where retirement, income security for seniors kicks in,” he said. “So, a lot of people will, if they don’t have incentives to continue working, prefer to retire before they reach the age of 66.”

“The participation rate of those 65 and above has been growing in recent years, but it’s started to stabilize,” he said. “Beyond the age of 65, we’ve made progress, but it’s still fairly marginal in the bigger scheme of things and it will certainly not give us the kind of numbers that you get through immigration.”

He said governments and organizations “should be acting on all fronts” when it comes to the workforce. Businesses should see a natural incentive to allow things like progressive retirement or part-time work because of the labour crunch, Saillant said.

From a public policy point standpoint, while there’s progress, he said governments should focus on policies that make it easier for employers and employees to choose to stay in the workforce longer.