When I talk with contractors about how they are handling today’s skilled worker shortage, most are actively targeting younger generations. They are tapping into local trade schools and colleges, recruiting even before students have graduated. Long-term approaches are also prevalent as contractors work with youth programs such as the ACE Mentor program to get tomorrow’s workers thinking about construction careers.
These youth programs are all good, but are they enough to satisfy today’s construction staffing needs? Indications are they’re not. According to a recent survey by the AGC and Sage, 73 percent of firms report that they are having a hard time finding qualified workers, including salaried and craft professionals. And 76 percent predict that labor conditions will remain tight, or get worse, throughout 2017.
These are challenging times when it comes to labor—requiring some new ways of thinking. Take, for instance, older workers. Much of the discussion I’ve heard regarding workers 50 years and older is related to their leaving the workforce. But perhaps we’re jumping the gun in regards to this demographic. Why not look at ways to attract and retain more of these experienced workers.
The reality is today’s workers are retiring later. Almost 20 percent of Americans 65 and older are still working—the most people since the early 1960s, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.* There are many reasons why workers are staying on the job longer. Among the motives are fewer defined-benefit pension plans, insufficient retirement savings, a higher age for social security benefits, and the desire to stay on company-supplemented health care plans.
There is also a large group who like their jobs and want to continue to work. American’s are healthier and living longer. Older workers want to stay involved and feel they still have something to contribute to the working world.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review debunks the typical assumptions made about age and work. The piece describes how—just like their younger counterparts—many older workers are investing in new skills, thinking about career options, and are positive and excited by their work.
But what about technology—a key competitive factor for many construction firms. It’s generally believed that older workers have a difficult time adapting to anything tech oriented. That belief is also being shown to be incorrect. I recently talked with Cory McFarlane, chief visionary and president of construction firm Pinnacle/CSG. He told me how some of his 60 plus-year-olds “can run circles around some younger workers when it comes to IT because they choose to embrace it.” As he explains: “People who’ve been around for awhile understand that technology can help them.”
Age diversification provides business benefits
More companies are finding that maintaining a percentage of older workers in their employee mix is also good for business. The qualities an older generation brings to the table can actually help raise overall performance. A 2015 AARP report shows that older workers remain the most engaged age group. The report concludes “An engaged older workforce can influence and enhance organizational productivity and generate improved business outcomes.”
Now’s the time to look at older workers through a different lens. There’s no longer a set timetable for retirement or ambition. Consider how you can target older, more experienced workers to tap into the expertise you need in today’s challenging labor market.
*“I’ll never retire”: Americans break record for working past 65, Bloomberg.com