"Old School" Meets "New School": How to Build the Strongest Construction Team

Jan 8, 2024

You hear it all the time: Retirement rates are going up. Enrollment in college and technical programs for construction is going down. The skilled labor shortage is continuing to impact hiring, retention, and project timelines.

It’s true that current leaders in construction are retiring – and taking their hard-earned wisdom and experience with them. Almost half of the current workforce (41%) is slated for retirement by 2031, according to ADP and the National Center for Construction Education and Research. It’s also true that while Statista reports a rebound in the number of industry employee gains after the pandemic, the incoming workers aren’t matching the pace of retirements. In addition, those workers who are joining the workforce often have different backgrounds and skill sets than those traditionally considered necessary to succeed in construction. While those statistics seem stressful, there is a possible solution that addresses both ends of the problem: intergenerational mentorships.

What is an Intergenerational Mentorship?

Also called co-mentorships, this type of relationship is formed between senior industry leaders and incoming workers. Current industry leaders bring their wealth of experience in and knowledge of the construction industry: leadership skills, field operations, how a construction project comes together, and all the “old school” nuts and bolts of how to build a successful career in construction. They help the newer generations understand, in short, how things have always been done.

Meanwhile, the newer employees offer an entirely different knowledge base and set of skills. These employees are digital natives who often possess strong technical, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills that can offer new solutions to old problems and bring “new school” perspectives to companies to keep them on the cutting edge.

Bridge the Generational Gap

By pairing more experienced employees with less experienced ones, companies can experience the best of both worlds. Veteran builders can teach new employees the building skills they need on the job, which also gives them an opportunity to pass on the knowledge they’ve gained through decades of experience to the next generation. Meanwhile, the digital native generations can provide technology training to those current employees with less experience.

Technological savvy has never been more important in the construction industry, with the rise of project management, estimating, and scheduling software options to streamlining projects and increase efficiency and safety. Even most field employees need to be proficient with communication tools such as texting and emailing, as well as more advanced programs such as 3D CAD modeling and Business Information Management (BIM).

However, technology can’t replace the value of boots-on-the-ground project experience. Today’s construction workers need both skill sets, and co-mentorships are one way companies can help develop well-rounded employees.

Hire Based on Current Strengths

Some construction companies have a strong base of “old school” talent – leaders with decades of experience in the field and in the office. Those companies might consider hiring candidates with little or no direct construction experience, but strong tech skills, a proven work ethic, and a desire to learn and grow with an organization. Getting those “new school” skill sets on board gives companies the opportunity to match up employees who can both teach and learn from each other, making the whole team stronger.

Other companies, such as start-ups and newer teams, might have a great group of tech-savvy, hardworking employees who want to build their careers and make their mark on the construction industry. Those companies could benefit from some of that “old school” perspective. Construction industry experts who are nearing the end of their careers have a lot of wisdom and experience to share, and companies who bring them on board can benefit from their extensive careers in construction while giving them the chance to continuously learn and keep their skills sharp until they’re ready to retire.

The Bottom Line

The skills gap/labor shortage is a real problem for the construction industry. However, there are a large number of talented employees who know how to build projects and solve problems. On the other end of the spectrum, there are recent graduates and up-and-coming professionals with the work ethic to succeed and the tech skills to help companies deliver complex building projects safely and efficiently. By integrating these “old school” and “new school” skill sets and perspectives, construction companies have the opportunity to develop strong, well-rounded teams who can tackle any challenge they face.

About the Author

Tim LaBruyere

Tim joined Kimmel & Associates in 1993 and has provided diligent service throughout his career to leading companies in the commercial general construction and mining markets in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

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