When it comes to the job market for skilled trades, gray is the new gold standard. The Manufacturing Institute, an affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers, reports today’s average age for a tradesperson is 56, and currently in the U.S. there are 600,000 skilled jobs, such as electricians, carpenters, and masons going unfilled.
The reasons are many. AARP, Inc., reports that 79% of baby boomers say they don’t plan to stop working at age 65 for both financial and personal reasons. Not only that, fewer high school students are enrolling in trade schools after graduation. Plus, the economy has rebounded – particularly in the construction industry – creating more need for skilled labor.
What will this mean for your business? It means you and your current employees will most likely spend more years on the job than you anticipated. To keep your business successful, you’ll have to meet the challenges of an aging workforce. Specifically, you’ll have to look for new ways to recruit and train tomorrow’s workforce while keeping your current workers healthy and on top of their game. Need advice on meeting the workforce challenge? We’ve got five tips to get you started.
Ramp Up Your Recruiting Efforts
Tip 1: Partner with Area Agencies to Find Qualified New Employees
Community colleges with vocational studies are an excellent source for qualified workers looking for experience. Contact the instructors, who might be able to match you with an individual student that’s right for your business, and post openings on job boards. Other sources for finding qualified workers include staffing agencies and labor boards.
Tip 2: Mentor Your New Recruits
Pair up your seasoned workers with new recruits. They’ll get hands-on experience and advice on situations that may not have come up in the classroom. On the flip side, the recruits could introduce older workers to new trends and technology, and they may be able to handle the more strenuous jobs, taking some of the physical stress from the older employees.
Reevaluate the Job
Tip 3: Consider Flexible Hours or Job Sharing
Older workers may have the experience, but they may lack the stamina necessary for the long days during peak season. Consider making the work hours for older employees flexible, when possible. Another solution is to offer job sharing, where two (or more) employees share the task, yet each works part time.
Tip 4: Focus on Safety
Job site safety is a major concern with an older workforce, particularly on the construction side of skilled trades. According to a report published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, older workers are likely to have fewer serious workplace injuries, but their recovery time is greater.
As we age, our sense of balance weakens – as does our eyesight – allowing for a greater chance of job site injuries due to falls. Combat this by checking and double checking the stability of all ladders and scaffolding. If an older employee has any balance issues, try to keep him or her “grounded.” Make sure everyone on your crew organizes their tools and supplies to avoid trip/fall hazards and keep walkways unobstructed. Also, if trucks or other motorized vehicles are at the job site, remind workers to keep clear of them – they must be aware of their surroundings at all times.
Tip 5: Ergonomics: The Art of Working Smarter, Not Harder
While older workers often bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the job, their strength and stamina may have diminished, often as a result of the hard labor they’ve put in over the years. Does this mean they can’t do the job? Absolutely not! But it does mean that you should think about ways in which the job is causing physical strain, and find solutions to minimize that strain while maximizing performance.
In particular, look at how you or your workers are using tools, then find ways to change damaging habits.
- Reduce excessive gripping force or pressure.
- Avoid extreme and awkward joint positions. You can reduce the strain on your back and shoulders from loading and unloading ladders by upfitting your work vehicle a Drop-Down Ladder Rack.
- Avoid twisting hand and wrist motion by using power tools rather than hand tools.
- Avoid repetitive finger movements, or at least reduce their number.
- Avoid or limit vibration. When replacing tools, look for ones that have built-in vibration inhibitors.
- Minimize the amount of force needed to activate trigger devices on power tools.
- Frequent movements of the index finger while operating the trigger of power tools (such as a power drill) poses a considerable risk for both “trigger finger” and “trigger thumb” (tendonitis in the index finger and/or thumb). A longer trigger which allows the use of two or three fingers to activate them reduces discomfort and minimizes the risk for injury.
- Remember to stretch before – and during – the workday to reduce the chance for strains and sprains.
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