Employers in New Brunswick will have to adopt new strategies to cope with stagnating population growth and an aging workforce, says a new report from the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council.

The APEC report titled: The Growing Importance of Older Workers in Atlantic Canada was released on Tuesday.

“We have to become much adept in terms of our willingness to accommodate older workers in the labour force,” said Elizabeth Beale, president and chief executive officer of the Halifax-based think-tank.

“That means everything from making pensions flexible so that workers won’t face penalties – in other words to make it worthwhile to keep working to flexible working conditions,” she said on Tuesday. “Not all older workers are willing to work 40 hours a week, 49 weeks a year.”

Ian Munro, director of research for the Halifax-based Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said New Brunswick’s demographic trends pose serious challenges.

“The troublesome thing is that you not only have a greater number of older people who are retired, generally no longer in the workforce and generally consuming more public services like health care, but at the same time you have a shrinking number people in the workforce who actually form the tax base.”

Munro said the provincial government will be faced with three major options.

“Services can be cut back, but I don’t think anyone would be too happy about that,” he said. “We can try different means to increase the number of people in the workforce, either through immigration or through having more babies in the future, or we can find ways to make people in the workforce more productive.”

A recent roundtable on older workers in Saint John showed companies in the province were already taking steps to accommodate older employees, Beale said.

Some firms are allowing workers to come back after they had retired and work for three months in the spring, followed by a summer break and then return for another three month in the fall, she said.

“Realistically you can’t do that with everybody,” she said, noting some companies – particularly those with physically demanding jobs – are going to have a hard time as the work force ages and the availability of younger replacements shrinks.

“One of things that some of the manufacturing companies have suggested to us, is we need programs that would encourage mentoring,” she said. “Rather than losing all the skills of older workers, you bring them in to work with younger ones to ensure all the skills are passed on.”

The APEC report’s release coincides with the unveiling of the detailed 2006 census data on New Brunswick’s demographics.

The census shows that the percentage of New Brunswickers aged 65 and older has nearly doubled over the past 50 years.

In 1956, 7.8 per cent of New Brunswick’s population of 554,616 was 65 or older.

In 2006, 14.7 per cent of New Brunswick’s population of 749,168 was 65 or older.

The number of seniors in the population has risen from 43,260 to 110,127.

Those numbers will continue to swell as the first wave of the baby boomers reach retirement age in 2011.

According to Statistics Canada, the median age of the population in New Brunswick has gone from 23.3 years in 1956 to 41.5 in 2006.

New Brunswick’s population growth has gone from a rate of 7.8 per cent in 1956 to 0.1 per cent in 2006. Between 1996 and 2001 it experienced a loss of 1.2 per cent.

Also declining is New Brunswick’s population under the age of 14.

“We’ve gone from 222,000 in 1966 down to 161,500 in 1986 to 118,250 in 2006. Almost in half,” said Beale.