12 Years On

First day of winter – again. Another year of retirement over and hopefully a few more ahead. I never mind the Winter Solstice when it marks such a nice anniversary.

12 years of retirement – you don’t think of it in career terms I suppose – but I’ve been retired longer than anywhere I worked with the exception of Unilever. It was definitely early retirement when it began, but I’m well past the fossil stage when it comes to employment now. Probably even the fast food places wouldn’t want me – not fast enough any more.

Even since 2004 there have been big changes in where I used to work. The Lipton Bramalea plant and laboratories are history – they were demolished earlier this year. The Rexdale R&D lab was changed after I left and I think it’s the lunchroom today. Who knows where the “deployment” troops work now – they don’t develop new products in Canada any more as far as I know. Recently I heard that Unilever was even closing down the fabled Vlaardingen R&D center in the Netherlands – more jobs lost or shifted inland to Wageningen.

Of course all this pales with the changes seen since the start of my career – it’ll be 48 years in 2017 since I graduated from Queen’s.

Every plant I used to work in has been closed with one exception. The paternalistic HR departments that managed all our defined benefit packages have been outsourced. All that paper and pen based notebook writing we used to do now probably gets tapped or spoken into a smartphone. Analog based activity has gone the way of the dinosaur – no more secretaries, typewriters, index cards, bound science journals, blueprints, slide rules, instruments with dials and gauges.

When I started a computer was a batch oriented behemoth that occupied a few rooms. Today it is an iPhone or Android device.

Maybe as a STEM graduate I’d get a job today, although I’d need a Master’s degree probably. My colleagues from the factory aren’t as fortunate. In 1969 things were heavily mechanized but not automated. A grade 10 graduate could have a decent life. Today automation has swept through the factory floor like a neutron bomb, and less than a third of the workers survive. It’s easier to just close a plant nowadays than invest in new technology – you can just fire the whole bunch, and hire far fewer in a new plant somewhere else.

No where has this effect been seen more than in small town Ontario. When I began in Cobourg / Port Hope the two towns were dominated by branch plant manufacturing. Today it’s public sector work – and those are the good jobs. Everybody else works at Timmie’s or some other job that supports retirement boomers like me. Globalization may be part of it but I bet automation played the major role.

It’s no fun to get old – but at least I had my place on stage before the production wound down and disappeared. I don’t know what I’d advise a young person to do today.

12 years on in my retirement career – I am content to work at it as long as God gives me – though obviously the end is now much closer than it was when I started. Dark views indeed for a sunny but short day in December.



Published by Ray MacDonald

Ray MacDonald is a retired food scientist who lives in Almonte, ON.
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