Worker co-ops can fill the gap in business succession planning for aging boomers
By Michelle Strutzenberger
As the wave of baby-boomer retirements crests in the next few years, one of the predicted gaps is in business ownership succession. Amongst the solutions? Worker co-ops, say some in the field.
Hazel Corcoran is executive director of the Calgary-based Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation (CWCF), as well as co-ordinator of the CoopZone, a site providing Canadians with resources and consultants to help develop co-operatives.
While the bulk of the worker co-op movement in Canada is currently francophone — with about two-thirds of it in Quebec — worker co-ops appear to be gaining traction across the country.
Hazel says she thinks this is in part because many young people today are not finding employment in the same way the generation before them could — for instance, within established organizations — so they’re looking more avidly for alternatives.
Worker co-ops are also starting to take off in business succession situations, a trend Hazel says offers much promise.
The growing concern over the next few years is that as baby boomers retire in greater numbers there won’t be enough people to take over businesses.
The CWCF organized a bilingual business succession employee ownership conference last year on this topic. The intention was to both raise public awareness and solicit federal government interest in providing seed money for promotion and development of worker co-ops.
While their second goal was not realized — the federal government opted instead to cut all co-op development programming this year — the conference does seem to have sparked support from a provincial government.
Quebec has announced a capital fund of $30 million, part of which will finance conversions and leverage other financing for worker co-ops. Another $1.5 million over three years will help to cover some worker co-op promotion and education.
“So the worker co-op movement will really take off there and continue growing by leaps and bounds,” says Hazel.
Outside of Quebec, the CWCF is committed to using its tried and true “bootstrap” method of getting the message out there.
“We just have to look for every available way to spread the message so that people can find us and we can help them find the resources they need to make it happen,” says Hazel.
“We have to make sure that within the next two or three years, before the next big wave of retirement hits, that people know this is an option.”
Plans are underway to develop a toolkit so that people can work on creating a worker co-op as a business succession response on their own.
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