How do we retain the experience that older staff bring?

William Burton

In the course of the next five years around half a million construction industry employees will reach retirement age.  That is nearly one in five of the current workforce.

While this will increase opportunities for young people wanting to join the industry, can we really afford to lose a whole generation of skilled workers and; if we want them to stay  - which we surely do - how are we to  make best use of their expertise as their appetite for the more physical aspects of the job begins to wane?

If our industry is to reap the rewards of a return to economic growth, it will be essential to draw on the skills and expertise of older workers

I wouldn’t claim to be the first person to identify the challenges that an ageing workforce poses for the construction sector.   In 2011 a report commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission concluded that construction ‘has yet to address the ageing workforce and respond to the needs of older workers’.  Given other, more pressing challenges that the industry was facing at the time it’s hardly surprising that addressing the age conundrum was not then a priority for everyone. But now, with an improving economic outlook, the time has come to get to grips with it.

It’s one thing to agree that we want and need to retain older people in the construction workforce, but if we are to achieve that we need to develop a comprehensive range of opportunities for re-skilling and retraining and taking on different roles.  This can’t be a ‘one size fits all’ exercise:  SMEs with a small workforce will have different priorities and challenges than larger organisations and; the needs and aspirations of individuals will vary widely.

So there are no easy answers.  One of the things we do have though – for those registered with CITB – is access to grants to support individuals’ training and development. Clearly, a great deal of what is already on offer is of relevance to workers whatever their age but there is a debate to be had, I think, about the specialist offerings that we should be developing and the approaches that employers should be taking to retain older workers. 

If our industry is to reap the rewards of a return to economic growth, it will be essential to draw on the skills and expertise of older workers.  We’ll need to get the best from them. That means creating a working environment that makes them enthusiastic about wanting to stay to pass on their skills to a new generation and mentor new apprentices and graduates through the system. We will only achieve this through deliberate consideration of older worker’s needs, aspirations and expectations and recognition of the contribution they can make across the board to the success of SMEs through to the largest multi nationals.

William Burton is interim chief executive of the CITB