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Management Flexforce workers serve business well, but how do they retire?

As more Canadians work on contract and frequently change jobs, a significant portion of these “flexforce workers” face insecure retirement prospects, TD Bank Group found in a recent survey. Two-thirds of those polled said they will likely postpone retirement due to inadequate savings.

"An increasing number of Canadians are choosing temporary or non-traditional employment," TD said. But, the bank acknowledges, stringing together a series of temporary gigs is not always a matter of choice.

"Being part of Canada's flexforce often comes with a great deal of financial unpredictability," says Jennifer Diplock, associate vice-president, personal savings and investment, at TD Canada Trust.

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TD commissioned the custom Environics Research Group to survey 1,101 working Canadians who identified themselves as gig workers, frequent job jumpers or postponed professionals (people who got a later start establishing their careers because of educational requirements or additional training). TD reports that 72 per cent said they were having difficulty saving for retirement, citing bills, expenses and debt repayment as the primary reasons.

The flexible workforce is growing, "and as the economic landscape changes, it’s important for us to understand how it is changing,” Ms. Diplock said in an interview.

It's not only temps who are unprotected in terms of retirement savings, she added. "Many employers no longer offer a pension plan. It puts the onus back on individuals."

Canada’s non-profit sector has set out to counter that trend with an innovative collective retirement plan that could potentially cover 850,000 non-profit and charitable workers – representing about half the sector – who currently do not have pension coverage. The Common Good Retirement Plan, still in the development stage, already has 65 committed employers and could launch as early as 2020.

The plan model is unique in that it would be available to freelancers and part-timers, as well as to full-time non-profit workers whose employers have signed up. It's portable in that, once enrolled, members can continue making contributions from wherever they end up working in Canada.

“People are changing jobs more often. Creating a benefit that stays with the worker adapts to the modern work force,” said Alex Mazer, a founding partner of Common Wealth, a Toronto-based company that collaborated with non-profit sector leaders to design the Common Good plan.

The option of joining is also extended to spouses and common-law partners of members who work for participating employers.

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“People tell you to work at a job you love – and these are easy jobs to love,” but few in the sector expect to retire in luxury, said Owen Charters, president and chief executive of Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada and a member of the Common Good pension plan steering committee. Non-profit organizations that rely primarily on donations and government grants year to year are hard-pressed to match the wages and benefits paid by large private and public sector employers.

"I have seen a lot of people who really do struggle with saving for retirement," said Mr. Charters, who believes the sector's collective approach to addressing the issue is long overdue.

Employee contributions will be geared to income – almost 50 per cent of non-profit employees are contract employees or freelancers with variable income – and employers are encouraged to match those contributions if they have the financial resources to do so. “It’s very, very difficult for most people to save effectively [for retirement] without access to a high quality plan,” said Common Wealth founding partner Jonathan Weisstub.

At TD, Ms. Diplock recognizes that retirement strategies for these flexforce workers, as the bank calls them, have to be built around schedules and savings levels that they can afford, in accordance with the ebbs and flows of their employment income. "The hardest part is getting started," but having a plan in place is an essential first step, she said.

Prosper Canada, a charity committed to improving the financial prospects of low- to mid-income Canadians, is a signatory to the non-profit sector plan for its own employees and a strong proponent of better retirement income security for all.

“So many people need this kind of help and it’s just not there. It’s a gap that needs to be filled,” said Elizabeth Mulholland, Prosper Canada CEO and a member of the Common Good steering committee.

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