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Older workers: Why construction cannot afford to lose them

Neil Martin

In construction, the majority hang up their hi-vis vests and retire at 65, but the industry can no longer afford to let this happen automatically.

If construction is to be truly diverse and cater for everyone, it cannot stop at gender and ethnicity. Age diversity is just as important – as with other types of diversity, it’s not just the right thing to do; it also offers huge potential to boost the bottom line.

It’s vital to recognise the value of older employees’ expertise and harness it for the future. Lendlease is seeing an increasing contingent of workers staying on past 65 – and with the same passion and will to work they have always had. This is delivering a range of benefits, but perhaps above all it’s an effective method of tackling the skills crisis.

The need to utilise the experience of our older workers presents a double challenge for construction. First, how do we ensure they continue to be happy with their working environment? Second, how do we capture their years of insight before they do retire?

Recruitment and retention

The sector’s current demographics show that now is the time to act. There was a 13 per cent increase in workers aged 45 and over in the construction industry between 1991 and 2011. However, 19 per cent of the UK workforce is due to retire within the next five to 10 years.

I argued in a previous article that attracting UK millennials to construction is vital to the sector’s future. Clearly, we need to create an industry that is attractive to young people who would not normally consider a career in construction.

“Nowhere is it written that an older workforce cannot keep up with technological changes”

But this is only part of the picture; we need to pay the same level of attention to retaining those at the other end of their careers. In fact, I would go further and say we need to get some of those who have taken early retirement back into the industry. To do so, we need to show the changes that have been made and the different roles available to them – just as we are doing with millennials.

Teaming up

The first step is to see tech-driven change as an enabler rather than a threat to those at an advanced stage of their career. Nowhere is it written that an older workforce cannot keep up with technological changes.

While retraining is always possible, experience cannot be coached. If anything, we need to apply experience to how we implement emerging technology. Combining cutting-edge tech skills with established expertise and judgement is a powerful approach that will solve multiple issues throughout the construction process.

Teaming up in this way can solve the issue of retaining knowledge and motivating older staff. It means experienced workers feel valued and focused on a new role, while younger staff have the back-up they need to approach their careers with confidence.

The result is a workforce that is both more effective and more creative.

Neil Martin is managing director of the European construction business at Lendlease

Readers' comments (3)

  • Tony Perry

    Great article (on Older Workers) by Neil Martin, particularly like the idea of 'Teaming Up', to help pass on experience quickly ……….

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  • Experience, skill and knowledge are no longer required. The only thing that counts today is an NVQ and a CSCS card!

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  • Paul Fears comment is very true
    And the writer is in some ways very correct but it’s to late to finally recognise this
    For years the older experienced operatives have been ignored by the very ones who Paul mentions with the NVQ and the bogus STMS holders who simply believe that that card/ cert goes then total supremacy and know it all
    The older ones have been shunned and ignored and together with the so called CsCS carding system and especially the Mickey Mouse CPCS scheme and fees have completely destroyed the older generation as (the HGV industry with their mad cap schemes
    Who at the retirement age would want to remain in the industry with the current regime in place.?
    The industry is in a terrible state as we all know in the industry it’s a bit late now to hope the “old boys” to step up after being ignored for years
    Recent events with Carillion have exposed the standard of works in competently carried out and the lack of experience

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