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An Aging Construction Workforce Projects Potential Problems

5/9/2014 | Construction Blog

Those who follow politics know that the “baby boomer” generation is often the topic of discussion in the context of budgetary and policy debates. The massive number of people that fit into that age demographic presents unique challenges in so many different ways. The construction industry, including in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, is no different.

There are millions of workers in the construction workforce that are part of that baby boomer generation. Estimates project that approximately 32 million workers in the construction industry will be over the age of 55 by 2025. This aging workforce creates two significant considerations for construction companies and the industry at large. One has been the subject of increasing discussion; and the other is rarely mentioned.

First, the aging construction workforce presents a potentially diabolical problem as the baby boomer generation prepares itself for retirement. The exit of so many productive workers from the industry could leave the construction world in the metaphorical lurch by itself. Priceless experience and efficiency will be lost as those workers retire. The problem is accentuated even further when one considers that there are not a sufficient number of young people entering the trades to replace those who are retiring. This means a smaller and less experienced construction work force. The result will undeniably be fewer workers to perform more work as the construction economy continues to turn more positive. The accompanying increase in costs and delays in completing projects will hurt the industry and stunt growth. A more thorough evaluation of this looming problem can be studied here.

The other large issue is equally important; but it is discussed far less. Aging workers present different challenges in terms of health and safety. While they possess a wealth of knowledge and experience, many of them cannot physically perform as they had 10-15 years ago. The wear and tear of years in the trades, reduced healing times, and the basic human reality that our bodies don’t work the way they used to as we age are tough realities. Workers with repetitive motion and other traumatic injuries can have a reduced capability to perform their work. Simple things like decreased vision and the impact of needed medications on performance can affect safety and efficiency if not properly accounted for on the project site.

All of this will impact companies without even considering the influence health care costs will have on operations and the bottom line. Generally speaking, older workers in all industries tend to require more regular medical care and, therefore, increased health insurance premiums. Regardless of where one stands on the politics of the Affordable Care Act, its implementation has created instability in the health insurance market and has added to the uncertainty of health care costs. Baby boomers reaching retirement will do nothing to ease this situation.

In the end, seasoned construction professionals are enormous assets to their employers and the industry. While the positives far outweigh the negatives, we cannot simply ignore the issues we face. The aging workforce brings with it some looming problems that, if not planned properly for, could become massive. The answer is proper planning on both a micro and macro level. Construction companies should be considering ways to promote efficiency for their aging workforce while they remain on the job. Business owners should also take full advantage of that wealth of experience by training new employees that will be ready to take their place when they retire. Finally, we should all spend more time encouraging young people to consider the trades for long term employment and developing and promoting programs to train them.

With this looming crisis also comes an opportunity. If we face these concerns head on and address them, the industry will be much stronger in the long term.