The Age of Experience: The aging workforce in the construction industry

Published On
Feb 15, 2021

The median age of a construction industry worker is 43 years old. In fact, roughly 40% of all workers in the industry are 45–64. The number of older workers is going up and the number of young workers is going down. According to data from Center for Construction Research and Training, Silver Spring, Md., workers age 55 and over increased from 17% in 2011 to 22% in 2018.

Having an experienced workforce provides significant advantages. Older workers tend to be safer and have a proven track record. These workers also tend to be more skilled and reliable because they have seen a lot. They know what works and what’s efficient. Additionally, baby boomers are often “company first” employees that value hard work. Meanwhile, younger people, while also hard workers, may prioritize having a work-life balance.

Workers younger than age 25 make up only 9% of the construction industry. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that between now and 2026, the construction industry will see major growth and as many as 747,600 new jobs. This may wreak havoc on the construction industry, which is likely to continue to face an uphill battle in finding future skilled labor positions. It is estimated that by 2030, millennials will make up about 40% of the U.S. workforce and Gen Z about 32%.

According to construction law firm Jackson Lewis, New York, “[The BLS] data suggests that it is not only imperative that employers understand the changing demographics and diversity of the workforce population (which will help in recruiting, training, and retaining new talent) but strategize on how to keep current workers in the industry longer. Employers who fail to address the latter run the risk of losing some of their most senior, skilled and experienced employees sooner than necessary.”

Planning for safety

With increasing demand for skilled labor, many workers are putting off retirement. Despite the physical demands of construction work, proper planning can minimize the impact of certain activities on older workers. While these workers are less likely to be injured by certain job hazards, such as struck-by, they are more prone to slips, trips and falls.

Older drivers at work are more likely to wear a seat belt and abide by speed limits. However, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, “Those age 55 and older have twice the risk of dying in a work-related crash than younger workers do. One possible reason is that older persons are more likely to be injured if they are in a crash, and more likely to die if they are injured.”

Older workers are also more likely to experience repetitive use injuries. Years of strenuous and demanding activities take a toll on joints and muscles.

Employers should implement strategies to mitigate risks to workers and provide incentives to older workers to stay healthy and be active. Minor injuries to older workers such as simple sprains and strains are typically more costly for employers and often require lengthier recovery time.

Employers can decrease the probability of injuries to all workers by establishing rotating schedules, fitness programs, stretching routines and safety programs to train workers. The implementation of disability prevention and management programs can also help assess and reduce the risk of hazards, injuries and illnesses.

Employers can provide a more flexible work schedule to older, skilled workers by offering reduced hours or a part-time role, which can minimize the physical impact on the body. Additionally, when older workers can’t physically do the work anymore, they can step into mentoring or teaching roles to help pass on their knowledge and skills to younger workers.

Finally, employers need to be familiar with the safeguards provided to workers by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and all relevant state and local laws and regulations. The ADEA protects employees who are 40 and older from age-based discrimination in the workplace. Similarly, the ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified employees who have a physical or mental disability. The ADA also requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations to those employees, which may include an employer offering reduced or flexible hours or restructuring responsibilities. These modifications can help workers maintain employment without discrimination.

There are many challenges associated with the aging work force and the dearth of young workers in the growing construction industry. At the same time, there are plenty of resources available to help you learn more.

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist

Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Reach him at toconnor@intecweb.com.

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