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Construction Industry Losing Workers as Baby Boomers Retire


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We are witnessing one of the biggest shifts of human capital in history. This has forced many companies to completely reevaluate their strategy on how they recruit, retain, and, most importantly, captivate the next generation of workers.

Throughout Australia, we are seeing a continuous stream of baby boomers going into retirement. This is certainly something that needs to be talked about, especially since an estimated 54 per cent of construction managers belong to the baby boomer generation. Not only is the construction industry losing manpower, but they are also losing all of the experience and knowledge acquired throughout these lengthy careers. 

During a time of labour shortage, it's essential that construction leaders find a way to recruit and, in turn, familiarise the younger generation with this knowledge.

During a time of labour shortage, it's essential that construction leaders find a way to recruit and, in turn, familiarise the younger generation with this knowledge. A lot of construction companies are actively looking to improve recruitment into the trades. Some companies, for instance, are working on mentorship programs to help dissolve the gap between the baby boomers and younger workers.

When it comes to recruitment of our younger generation, trade jobs need to be portrayed as a worthy alternative to university education; new potential tradies need to realise that trades lead to a satisfying and lucrative career.

It's important to expose young people to the benefits and possibilities that a career in construction can bring early on. Introducing work experience and apprenticeships at the high school level would be ideal.

A Gallup Poll finds that by age 68, only about a third of boomers in the US are still in the workforce, including just 16 per cent who are working full time. This trend can also be found in Australia. This data shows us that baby boomers are not working past 65 as previously expected. 

With this gap in experience coming to light, Garret Norris, Managing Director of Healthy Business Builder Group, says that his team is busier than ever delivering sales management training, executive coaching, and business coaching to their clients. The industry has recognized a growing, urgent need for succession planning, workforce development, and engagement among young professionals.

For some businesses, it may be time to consider implementing a baby boomer knowledge retention and replacement program. Some questions you need to consider are:

  • How many of your staff are close to retirement or thinking about retirement?

  • What management roles do they fill?

  • What skills and abilities will you have to replace when they leave?

  • What industry and client relationships will your company lose?

In order to try and keep baby boomers in the job as long as possible, many companies are offering flexible work options. While it is good news we are able to keep some on the job longer, we still need to consider the types of roles they are in. Many construction jobs are physically demanding—utilising baby boomers in management and mentoring roles may be the right way to go.

Reverse mentoring is another great option to consider when looking at retaining baby boomers. In this instance, younger employees can train older generations in areas such as tech, allowing baby boomers to feel comfortable with the ever-changing industry.

Jobsite spoke with Garret Norris about the difficulties relating to staff recruitment.

"We have seen some changes in 2018 in the recruitment space. Globally, sourcing high-quality candidates for key roles in construction will continue to rise,” says Norris. “New technologies are both contributing and assisting to resolve hiring challenges. The key is how we maintain the human element in the experiences for everyone involved in the hiring process. Technology is a facilitator—it doesn’t replace us, and the connections we make person-to-person.

 “New technologies are both contributing and assisting to resolve hiring challenges."

“However, we do know that 49 per cent of the largest companies are allowing people to share jobs on social media. My question is, what social media, and are our candidates looking there? Also, as we are a mobile society with 27 million handsets, only 29 per cent of Australian businesses have their job site optimised for mobile.

“So, does training and recruiting work? Should we be training people and promoting from within? Well, I think we all know the answer—over 40 per cent of companies say that their highest-quality hires are internal candidates."

What we need to focus on now is what the younger generation can bring to the table—technology. As more and more tech is integrated into the construction industry, the definition of a “skilled operator” is changing. The Industry is now using high tech equipment in a diverse range of areas, from drones to wearables to cloud collaboration. This is where the tech-savvy generation will be in demand with their ability to use these new tech tools and keep the Industry moving forward.

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