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Gray Power in the Construction Workforce


Some companies decline to consider, or even interview, job applicants with resumes showing over 30 years of experience. This decision to pass over seasoned candidates is often driven by a stereotypical notion that senior workers are looking to cruise until retirement. This is a regrettable misconception. Candidates with many years of experience bring with them invaluable “gray power” qualities, including loyalty, hard work, efficiency and leadership.

Attitudes towards hiring seasoned professionals have started to change for a variety of reasons. Some have recognized the value that industry veterans bring with them to the job. Others are simply adjusting to changes in demographics. Before the recession, there seemed to be an endless supply of new recruits. Since the recession, the numbers of people joining the construction workforce have shrunk. At the same time, the percentage of industry professionals over the age of 55 has grown. This reflects an overall trend in the American workforce. According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2012, labor force participation rates of people age 55 and over are rising. Among 55- to 64-year-olds, the labor force participation rate was 61.9 percent in 2002 and increased to 64.5 percent in 2012. BLS projects their participation rate to increase further, to 67.5 percent in 2022. Whether through necessity or a growing recognition of the benefits of gray power, some companies have shifted their hiring strategies and have started requesting interviews with experienced candidates. Regrettably though, this shift has not been industry-wide.

Why are companies still passing over candidates with gray power? One reason is a persisting notion in the industry that hiring a worker fresh out of school means making an investment in someone who will stay with the company for decades. To a large degree, that is no longer the case. According to Pew Research Center surveys, 57 percent of Millennial Generation workers say they do not plan on staying with their current employers for the rest of their careers. In fact 39 percent say they are “very likely” to change careers completely and 27 percent say it is “somewhat likely” they will do so. The time, energy and money invested in training a younger worker may not yield the returns of a long-term employee.

Adding gray power to a team means getting the benefits of proven experience rather than taking a chance on someone who is relatively untested. You also get someone who can mentor to less experienced workers. Many construction industry veterans want to “give back” to the industry. They do that by passing on their hard-won industry knowledge and helping others avoid the pitfalls they faced over the course of their careers.

The success experienced by those who have benefited from mentoring may be another reason why construction firms are now more open to hiring seasoned workers. Many of today’s construction industry leaders attribute their own level of achievement to gray-haired mentors who showed them the way. There are plenty of successful professionals working today who will say that, if it had not been for the guidance they got they got from an experienced co-worker, they would never have attained the positions that they have now.

Those who have shifted their attitudes toward hiring seasoned professionals are achieving more success than their counterparts who haven’t. Hopefully more construction industry employers will see the light and start benefiting from gray power.