Making The Most Of Maturity

By Liz Moucka | September 28, 2010

The labor situation has become critical. "We can't hire enough good workers, mechanics, operators ..." is a sentiment heard over and over in the construction industry.

Every established supplier and contractor has a few field and shop employees who have remained in their employ for over 20 years. But the truth is, past the age of 50, most workers are physically showing and feeling their age.

Workers who have reached their maturity working in construction have generally become supervisors or crew leaders. Employers have recognized their talents and want to hold on to good employees.

There are other places where we can make the most of the mature construction worker's knowledge. This idea falls into the category of long term goals.

In the first installment of this series, James Melton, assistant superintendent of the Everman Independent School District, discussed the worker shortage in the context of high school career and technology classes. "We need to have students taught by people who know their craft. Finding teachers for these classes is the problem," he added. "If welders are out there making $80,000, we're going to have trouble pulling them in by paying $50,000 to teach welding."

Melton has issued a challenge to the construction industry, "The construction community itself needs to get more involved in getting the word out to the students. The workplace is changing so much with regard as to technology, and the teachers still think only of the lumber and brick. For instance, the woodworking teacher is teaching students how to frame wood and they may get to install a plug for electricity, but he's not up to speed on the different aspects of what really goes into wiring a house."

A hundred years ago, it was common for children to visit their fathers' workplaces. Both parent and child were able to take pride in craftsmanship. Times have changed. For safety reasons this may be for the best, but it also breaks the chain of training.

Mature workers should have the opportunity to become the teachers and mentors, providing a strong role model for a younger generation. While it is true that contractors need their entire crew, they also need more workers. What great seed might be planted if a mature craftsman could spend a few hours each week for a semester teamed with a construction career and technology class teacher — taking the role of project manager mentoring the wet-behind-the-ears beginners in their workshop skills and projects. After all, these high school students will be entering the workforce right in their own community in one to four years. Of course, the employee chosen to serve as this educational ambassador must believe in the importance of the task. Such a plan could be a networking and marketing strategy as much as instructional.

New To Construction

On the flip side are mature workers who might choose construction as a second career. With better health care increasing longevity, many people are changing careers at ages over 40. What are the reasons a mature person changes careers.

A worker may have no choice. We have many industries in Texas that have experienced massive lay-offs. Hundreds of workers over 50 have had to face this crisis.

"We always get a few trainees over the age of 40 or 50 after big industrial lay-offs," said Kim Allen of the North Texas Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee in Grand Prairie.

The North Texas Construction Education Foundation (NTCEF) has seen an increase in the over-30 age demographic in their construction management course as well as in their HVAC training, according to Liz Holliday.

On the other hand, Texas State Technical College (TSTC,) with campuses in Waco, Marshall, Harlingen and West Texas, has seen decreasing numbers of over-30 trainees entering their welding and diesel mechanic program.

Workers may be unhappy with the choice they made right after high school. They've tolerated a bad situation as long as they could and became ready for a change. That change can come at 30. With life experience, that worker probably has the maturity it takes to learn quickly and take safety to heart.

Has construction been good to you?