Keeping the Old, Recruiting the New

By Loren Faulkner | September 28, 2010

California's construction industry is in the same predicament as the rest of the nation. According to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (, the average age of a construction worker is 52. In decades past, replacements would line up eagerly, ready to follow the path their fathers took, entering the field after high school or a stint in the military.

But times have changed. Most high schools do not have a vocational training path, most young people think "hi-tech" is the fast-track to future employment, and apparently there is still the perception that "blue collar" work is a fall-back position of last resort. As physical decline starts taking its toll on older blue-collar workers, company owners are getting a reality check as replacements are getting harder to find.

In a San Diego Tribune article last year entitled, "Baby Boomer Exodus," writer Michael Kinsman ( quotes Sandra Timmerman, who leads MetLife's Mature Market Institute:

"The baby boomers are going to be leaving the workplace soon, and they are going to take all their knowledge with them. If you ignore that, you're going to make the problem worse than it has to be."

The same article states:

"America is enamored with youth, and a lot of businesses don't look favorably on older workers," said Miriam Rothman, a professor of management at the University of San Diego. "Most employers want to hire young people, fresh people. They don't want to deal with older people. But they are going to find very soon that they need these older workers."

Workable Solutions

  1. Keep older workers on board longer
    • Think outside the box when dealing with the issue of older construction workers.
    Jim Ryan, executive vice president of AGC San Diego, wrote on its website (, "Consider offering the baby boomers in your office packages to stay a little longer ... perhaps flex hours ... perhaps part time assignments that focus on one project instead of multiple projects."
  2. Invest in updated equipment that is more operator-friendly.
    • From back-hoes to the largest bulldozers, older workers can stay longer when a joystick replaces or overrides manual operating systems. Bobcat, for example, has recently introduced a remote controlled skid steer. (
  3. Train/Re-train Older Workers with New Technology
    • Computer assisted and GPS enhanced construction equipment are here to stay.
    New technology can be intimidating to some older workers at first. But as one construction company owner said about an older employee reluctant to use GPS on his motor grader:
    "I have an experienced operator in his mid- to late-70's who initially said 'I'm old school and want to see stakes. I don't believe this is going to work.' We had to sit him down and show him how it works ... how to change the screens ... where his blade is positioned. And now, he loves it and keeps saying 'This system is amazing, it's incredible.'" Give older workers the opportunity to experience new technology. (;
  4. Recruit to replace older workers
    • Large construction companies and organizations like AGC, AEM, BCCC (Building California Construction Careers,, and many others are educating young people from grade school to high school and beyond about the importance of the construction industry, as well as the well-paying career opportunities it offers. For example, AEM is sponsoring "Construction Challenge," a series of national events aimed at "attracting the best and brightest young people" to the construction industry and related fields, focusing on awareness of construction-related jobs, construction equipment and manufacturing, and infrastructure awareness.


Fast Facts

  • According to the California Department of Education, out of every 100 students who enter our public high schools in this state, 30 will drop out before graduation. Of the 70 who are left, only 21 will go on to college. Of those who attend community colleges, half will drop out in the second semester. Yet, most of our education and counseling resources are geared to en courage young people to enter and complete college, even though few will ever do that.
  • The need for construction workers is tremendous; with $36 billion of construction work currently in the pipeline and another $40 billion to be spent with the recently passed Infrastructure Bonds, projections run up to 144,000 new construction workers needed. Many con struction workers are getting ready to retire. Today, for every four people who leave the trades, only one new trained person is supplied by current apprenticeship programs. (Source: Building California Construction Careers;
  • The construction industry employs approximately 800,000 workers statewide. By 2010 the construction industry will need approximately 200,000 new workers. (Source: California Employment Development Department;