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Ottawa founder of Top Sixty Over Sixty says turn to older adults to solve the labour shortage

Helen Hirsh Spence has always been a leader.

A lifelong educator, Hirsh Spence spent many years working in senior leadership roles with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board. 

She is the former President of the Ontario Principals’ Council.Hirsh Spence was the Head of Elmwood School. 

For many years, she was the Chair of the Board of the Jane Goodall Institute—working to raise funds for the famous primatologist. 

Then Hirsh Spence retired. 

And in her words, became "invisible."

"I was suddenly irrelevant to the general public because people really attach who you are with what you do, and it’s especially bad for women. It’s gendered ageism," says Hirsh Spence.

"My generation was very unlike former generations of those over 60 years old," emphasizes Hirsh Spence. "We still had tons of potential, and lots to offer, and yet we were not being given the chance."

So, Hirsh Spence began leading again. The energetic electric visionary founded Top Sixty Over Sixty

She was taken back by the focus given to those celebrated as the best and the brightest in Top Forty Under Forty awards.

"That’s really what inspired me. We grew up in a youth-centric world. We want to make aging aspirational.  Look forward to getting older.  See what you can do because it’s wonderful."

That’s not what is currently happening on Canada’s employment scene, says Hirsch Spence.

"The older workforce is the untapped resource in Canada."

She explains that the CVs of older applicants are less likely considered than those of younger people vying for the same jobs.

Hirsh Spence says she has experienced “ageism” and was driven to create Top Sixty Over Sixty after having witnessed, firsthand, how ageism was impacting Boomers.

"It bothered me because we happen to be in the majority, practically. There are over seven million of us who are over the age of 60 and that number is just increasing."

Hirsh Spence wants companies to rethink their hiring.  

She wants employers to focus on experience and the benefits of having a multigenerational labour force. 

"Ottawa is one of the best educated cities in the country but the education that most older people have is not being taken advantage of here." 

Hirsh Spence doesn’t believe youth should be valued more than experience.  She wants to see people of all ages working together, fuelling each other. 

"We’re really working with businesses to help them understand the value of either retaining or hiring some older workers," explains Hirsch Spence.

"The findings are, when you do have mixed ages in the workforce there’s a higher level of retention, organizational culture improves," she says.

"There are tons of advantages having older and younger people working together—mutual mentoring, reciprocal mentoring.

"It’s definitely affecting the talent shortage because we’re letting great people go, instead of spending time figuring out great ways of retaining them."

Through Top Sixty Over Sixty, Hirsh Spence intends to bring attention to the value and potential of older adults and to dismantle ageism.

"We help businesses harness the opportunities of demographic change and we help individuals find purpose and meaning in the next stage of their lives," Hirsh Spence says.

"Canada is experiencing a talent shortage, but it isn't taking full advantage of its ageing demographic. ‘Top Sixty’ advocates for age equity in the workplace and wants to help businesses take full advantage of their multigenerational workforce," says a passionate Hirsh Spence.

Hirsh Spence shares examples of Ageist Comments

More Examples of ageist comments

  • He's over the hill
  • You can't teach an old dog new tricks
  • I just had a senior's moment
  • She's past her prime

Ageism in advertising

  • Anti-aging treatments
  • Want to look 10 years younger in just minutes?
  • The teeth that make you look younger!
  • Deep Set wrinkle repair!

Ageism in the workplace

  • When will you be retiring?
  • How many more years do you have left?
  • I can't give you this training, you'll be gone in a few years
  • Colleagues excluding others in conversations, or in activities, based on age Top Stories

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