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The upside of construction’s aging workforce

Marcia Doyle Headshot
Updated Nov 3, 2017

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Although much has been made of construction’s aging workforce, most of the emphasis has been on labor. But aging is nothing if not equal opportunity, the most egalitarian force of nature. So aging is not just a labor crew reality, but cuts across your entire organization: office, management, you.

With all the angst about replacing older workers, one key discussion is getting short shrift: how to both accommodate and capitalize on the strengths of the aging people across your workforce. Here are a few arguments for construction business owners to consider for not letting them walk out the door so quickly:

They’re not a mystery.

You know their work ethic. You wouldn’t have kept them on your payroll for so long if they hadn’t proved they could do the job, over and over again. There’s an ease in knowing what an employee is capable of, and how they are likely to react to job pressures. Communicating with them is a well-worn path.

Their growing physical limitations may force you to rethink the way a task has always been done.

Growing older can be hell: Knees creek, backs ache, sight is less reliable. But does every task need to involve so much muscle? If there’s a practice, tool or device out there that would make it easier on your older workers, chances are your younger workers would benefit, too.

They have incentives to work.

Social Security benefits likely will not give them anything close to the income they’re making now. And with today’s widespread knowledge of what makes a healthy lifestyle, they’re probably more physically fit than retirement-age employees of just 10 years ago. Now that they know that sitting is as deadly as smoking, propping up their feet may not look nearly so attractive.

Fewer hours may work to your advantage.

If they go from full time to part time, the loss won’t be so acute – on either side. All that knowledge is still accessible, and the employee doesn’t have to suddenly face unscheduled days. And there are various arrangements that could be applied to the individual situation: working on a per-project basis, providing additional seasonal assistance, or even job sharing an office position.

But all of this assumes that you know what your older workers want. Grab a cup of coffee and have a one-on-one. What are their retirement plans? Would they be open to additional work? What benefits or schedule flexibility would keep them on the job? You may be so familiar with an employee that you think you know everything there is to know about them, and you could be wrong. Your company could play as much of a part in their later years as visits to the grandchildren.

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There’s a saying floating around that may apply here: “The new word for retirement is ‘work.’” For people who enjoy what they do – and hopefully that includes your valued people – that’s great news.