Guy Legault had already enjoyed two very different careers when he found himself out of work two years ago.
At age 63, he was looking for something to do after 17 years with IBM Canada Ltd. in Calgary and Toronto, ranging from the mail room to systems engineer, followed by a 17-year career as a house manager at some of Toronto’s top theatres.
With his house-management skills, Mr. Legault said he could have applied to other theatre companies after he was laid off and jumped back into that line of work. But that would have been simply more of the same.
Around that time a lunch with a friend took him in a new direction. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., the company that operates the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors, was looking for ushers to work in its principal venues, the Air Canada Centre and BMO Field. Mr. Legault’s friend prodded him to try something different.
“I [thought] maybe I’ll just do a job where I can do the fun parts of the job. And in front-of-house management, the fun part is seeing the shows,” Mr. Legault says.
Given that he already knew about customer service, resolving ticketing issues and dealing with difficult people, he decided to go for an interview.
“It’s similar to ushering at any theatre, one or two nights a week, flexible schedule,” says Mr. Legault, now 65 and single. “I like all those things, so I applied and I got it.”
And with that, he joined the legions of baby boomers who are joining the gig economy. Instead of permanent or part-time jobs, baby boomers are moving into shorter-duration work of various forms as a way to supplement income in retirement.
Mr. Legault started out at the Air Canada Centre in the spring of 2015 with the hope of seeing big-name music concerts – Bruce Springsteen is his favourite so far. He admits he was never much of a sports fan. However, with sports serving as MLSE’s biggest business driver, it wasn’t long before Mr. Legault was showing Leafs fans to their seats – he saw his first live professional hockey game at the age of 64.
However, he truly looks forward to the Raptors and basketball. “It’s such a party atmosphere,” he says, with more interaction with customers than in the theatre. He enjoys the relationships he has struck up with some fans.
Of course, Mr. Legault appreciates the paycheque. But the flexibility of his new job is appealing, too. MLSE requires its ushers to work a minimum of seven shifts a month. While things can be slower in the summer when most of MLSE’s sports teams are in their off-seasons, things have ramped up of late with the return of the Leafs and the Raptors, and high-profile concerts with stars such as Adele and Drake. In fact, in November the arena has only three dark dates – days with no events booked. Mr. Legault would happily work all month if he could.
The downside is that he is often on his feet for six hours at a time and gets no health benefits. While he looked into purchasing them when he left his theatre job, he says it’s just so expensive that he hasn’t bothered.
His love of the theatre has also moved him to pick up shifts at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts – where he enjoys reconnecting with actors and backstage people he has met over his years in theatre – and more recently at Young People’s Theatre.
Given that the stage is one of his first loves, though his shifts may seem like work, they allow Mr. Legault to indulge in one of his passions, even when he is seeing the same show over and over again.
“I love seeing shows multiple times because I love to pick a play apart,” he says. “I’m critiquing the writing, I’m critiquing the directing and I’m also just letting the story wash over me.”
Mr. Legault certainly has more than enough to keep him busy, but if he ever needed external validation about what he is doing, he gets it on a regular basis.
“Once a month a fan will tell me either at BMO or at the ACC, ‘Man, you’ve got just the coolest job, you get to see all these games, you see concerts,’ and I have to agree,” he says.
However, the benefits of gig-like work extend to the employers, too. Given the cost of hiring a full-time worker, with pension and health care benefits on top of a salary, employers can benefit greatly from hiring senior workers on a piecemeal basis, to fill a knowledge or expertise gap for a short period of time.
“It’s a very efficient employment model and there are benefits to both sides,” says Jeff Nugent, managing director for Contingent Workforce Solutions, a contract worker classification and payroll specialist with offices in Canada and the United States.
While the prominence of gig-like work may be on the rise – Mr. Nugent says that staffing industry analysts predict that it could comprise 50 per cent of North American work within 10 to 15 years – seniors can offer a very enticing option for employers.
A recent JP Morgan Chase Institute report said that American seniors older than 65 earn 25 per cent of their income from working and that this may rise in the future. The institute discovered that the percentage of seniors still in the work force has increased, from 20.7 per cent in 2009 to 23.1 per cent in 2015, with much of that continued rise stemming from the gig economy.
“People have a different view of retirement today,” says Mary McIninch, executive director, government relations for the Association of Canadian Search, Employment and Staffing Services. “There are many options available to help them remain busy.… If they have a car in the driveway, they can now drive others around. This allows this person to contribute in a meaningful way, meet people and make some money, too.”
What should seniors be seeking from the gig economy? Mary McIninch, executive director, government relations for the Association of Canadian Search, Employment and Staffing Services, looks at some of the underappreciated aspects of gig-type work, particularly as it applies to seniors.
Work flexibility and an extra paycheque top the list of advantages when it comes to gig work. It allows seniors to do as much or as little as they want. The 2008 economic crisis may have impacted retirement nest eggs, and gig work allows them to catch up as well as provide assistance for grown children struggling to put down roots in today’s difficult economy. It also allows a measure of social interaction, depending on the job, and can offer variety, particularly for those willing to try different and unfamiliar things.
Weigh the downside
Seniors will want to ensure that any extra income doesn’t negatively impact their taxes. Double-check with a qualified tax professional. And be aware that a lack of benefits and a possible inconsistency of work may also be part of the gig package.
Ms. McIninch says knowledge workers are getting on board in increasing numbers these days. Industries such as computing and information technology, media and communications, arts and design and construction are all likely to make use of the gig economy.
The beauty of gig work for seniors is that they can be as busy as they want to be. “It’s suited to workers with an entrepreneurial spirit because you are responsible for finding your own work, but you can get help from staffing sector firms,” Ms. McIninch says.
For seniors seeking gig work, there are a number of agencies that can point them in the right direction, as well as freelancing websites such as Upwork.com or Jobboom.com. However, leads may come from the unlikeliest places, so seniors should inform networks of friends and former colleagues that they are looking for work.
Who’s on board?
“Gigging is still very new to seniors,” Ms. McIninch explains, but it will have a greater importance in the future. Temporary or contingent work rose 14.2 per cent between 2009 and 2012, she explains, against 3.8 per cent for permanent workers. On top of that, the Canadian work force aged 55 and older has increased to 38 per cent from 25 per cent in 2000.
While the paycheque, the flexibility of work and the social aspect are all great reasons for seniors to embrace the gig economy, in Ms. McIninch’s opinion, one reason trumps the others. “I think it’s primarily to keep busy,” she says. Following in the retirement footsteps of their parents doesn’t appeal to many baby boomers, Ms. McIninch says, adding that they are looking to stay active and contribute to society.