An ode to our aging trades

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I sit on my front porch in the old west end of Moncton as the eastern sun threatens to set, and watch while two men who must be ten years my senior – 65 years each, if a day – rebuild the front of my neighbor’s house.

They take their time, because doing things right, plying the skills they were taught when they were young, doesn’t mean just something: It means everything.

“Now, that’s a handsome job,” I say as I gambol up the street to inspect.
“Well, thank you,” the man in the orange t-shirt replies.

“No, I mean it,” I say. “That’s a truly magnificent job.”

The man in the blue shirt looks at me as if I’ve never seen a job site before. I explain that I once worked for a master carpenter in Toronto, a long time ago, and nothing he ever did could compare to the work these guys were executing for their relatives in this time, on this street.

Would he and his partner be interested in replacing my back deck, I wondered aloud?

“Oh no,” they chime almost in unison. “We’re retired.”

More’s the pity; for as time marches on for this province, for this region of Canada, retirement seems especially poisonous to the long-term economic future of the body politic.

I long ago abandoned any notion of “retirement”. The concept seemed to me, as a small businessman and owner-operator, not only impractical, but also irresponsible. After all, if I manage to retain all the skills my particular craft demand, shouldn’t I be obligated to continue for as long as my physical and mental health support?

According to David DeLong, an American speaker and labour-force consultant, “Many executives today worry that skill shortages threaten their organization’s ability to grow and innovate. A recent survey I designed for one manufacturing sector found that almost 60 per cent of managers responding thought skill shortages were already hurting their firm’s productivity and quality.

“But, despite a seriously aging population in the U.S. and the rest of the industrialized world, only four per cent of this same group saw the aging workforce as an immediate threat to performance. Most expect the effects of aging Boomers to come 3-5 years. About 20 per cent don’t see the aging workforce as a concern at all.”

And, really, why would they?

Those of us who have survived one, two, three, four and five horrible recessions know a thing or two about surviving the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth. In fact, in a weird and wonderful way, we relish these downturns.

We are young enough to recall what real fear feels like and old enough to remember how we overcame the daily terror.

Now, we “old folks” stand and deliver the lessons of experience – the tutorials necessary to bring a youthful, hopeful provincial government to heed the narrow truths behind its own broad rhetoric.

In truth, we will not prosper in the long range until will embrace the importance of small victories against the gathering darkness of global recession in the short range.

That means investing in the little enterprises whose owners – likely elderly folk who know a thing or two about surviving and thriving – are incapable of giving up, going dark and sending themselves into the retirement they say they crave.

“I’m really too old for this,” the man in the blue shirt says.

“Me too,” the man in the orange shirt says.

“So,” I say, “You’re done, then.”

The smiles arrive: “Oh no, we’ll be back. . .We will always be back.”

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