Thoughts on Hiring Older Workers in an Election Cycle

Oct 31, 2016

Older Workers Make Excellent Employees

In some professions and with some companies, age and experience are necessary to garner respect or be awarded the professional title. For example, when was the last time you voted for a politician fresh out of grad school or a doctor that looked like a junior high student? For some professions, ageism means the older the better.

However, in the construction industry and other manual labor type jobs, ageism is alive and manifest in the discrimination against and disregard for the older generation. In these jobs, if a resume is turned in for someone over 50, whether by ten minutes, ten months or ten years, that resume is quickly added to the discard pile. I’m here to tell you however that 50 is the new 40. Older workers make excellent employees. You would be doing your company a serious disservice by not hiring older workers. Reconsider the pile of resumes you stereotyped as “too experienced,” “too old,” “too slow,” or “too few years left to offer.”

Drive Doesn’t Die With Age

Sure, fault an older person for their driving skills, their taste in music or their Oldsmobile, but take a minute to consider what they have to offer you and your company. If the job candidate has achieved a level of success and expertise in their profession to date, that can only be seen as a gain for your company. Anyone who has been in the industry for a long time knows that a project doesn’t build itself. It requires the ability to work with others, the presence to motivate subcontractors and the hard-learned lessons that often times come from living and learning through mistakes.

I know because I’m long past 50 and believe me, the experiences and knowledge I gained as a “younger man” have only shaped and helped me, even with a few more gray hairs. I’ve had to learn new systems in our organization as well as work in 3rd party software like LinkedIn and Google. I couldn’t have learned these if I hadn’t worked with previous systems for years. I find myself every bit as competitive now as when I was much younger. The desire and drive to succeed has not left me. Being successful is something I work hard at achieving and not just because my employer expects me to succeed but rather because I still thrive on the adrenaline rush that comes with a job well done.

The War On Talent

I believe the drive to succeed ripens with age and that many professions would benefit from a little more maturity in their employee pool. Older workers make excellent candidates when looking to fill a void or improve your company. Talking about the construction industry, it’s important to note how the economy and the job market may have affected these seasoned professionals. Many construction professionals were forced to leave the industry when the bottom dropped out. The industry just couldn’t support the amount of professionals out there on the market, forcing people to make changes in location, job specialty or even career. With a somewhat more stable economy, we see more of these professionals coming back to the fold, bringing with them a foundation of work ethic, a broad range of skills, and a high level of experience.

Recently I asked a client about one of their employees that I’d included in an article for ENR over 10 years ago. My question to the client was very tentative. “Whatever happened to Frank, your B/D guy? Is he still there?” Imagine my surprise when they told me, “As a matter of fact he is. We just helped him celebrate his 93rd birthday.” Sure, Frank’s job description has changed a bit, but he is obviously an important asset to the company and is just as successful with his current job description as he was with his old one. Older workers make excellent employees and are actually much more versatile than you may have previously thought. Hiring older workers may be the solution you’re looking for when you want to hire a new employee to stay with you for the next 10 to 20 years.

Untapped Labor Source, Leaving a Legacy

I was speaking to a client and friend who has had a successful career in construction. He’d left a message on my cell phone for me to call him because they were doing well and needed some people for all the new work that was coming in. He was giving me the rundown on the position and the type of person, experientially, they were looking for. He got quiet for a moment and then I asked him, “What’s going on?”

He said, “I can’t believe I used to tell you not to bring me anyone that was 49 years or older. My feelings were that they couldn’t keep up.” He was quiet for another moment then finished his thought, “I’m 54 years old now and I’m just as interested about what I do, I’m just as intense as I was, and I still want to succeed just as much as I did when I was in my 30s. I really feel foolish when I think of what I said.”

Things change as you get older. I’m not just talking about the vision or hearing loss, that’s an article for another day, but the childlike idealism or young adult arrogance seem to fade and a healthy and appropriate realism start to take their place. You now realize that not everyone has that one idea that makes them millions or can shoot their way to the top and become the president of a company. Instead, there is a desire to give back, and a commitment to make the best of a situation and leave it better than when you found it. Hiring older workers will take the level of your company culture up a notch.

All the young guys who join your company need someone to mentor and guide them, not just in the in’s and out’s of the company, but the in’s and out’s of life, really. Just as leaving a legacy is important to a seasoned employee, making a name for oneself is important to a newcomer. Older workers make excellent candidates for people to mentor and mold the next generation. Hiring older workers is the perfect solution to finding the perfect professional mentor.

Somewhere down the road, when life has given that newcomer whatever level of success they are enjoying, they will say to someone, “The person who helped me the most when I was just starting out was Joe. His help was instrumental in what I’ve become and all I’ve achieved.” Whoever your Joe is will know that he’s paving the way for that conversation to happen down the road and he’ll be proud when it happens too.

Gray Power

50 is the new 40 and there is a goldmine of these employees out there, just waiting to be given another shot and a place to leave a legacy. It’s time the industry embraced the new reality that hiring a “young gun” and expecting them to stick around for 45 years is just not the norm. I’ve had too many clients ask me for a newbie, hoping to get 20-30 years of service out of them, only to come back 2 years later, a lot of time and money wasted in training, looking to fill the same position again. Don’t make that same mistake. You’d be selling your company short if you did.

The wealth of experience and knowledge that exist within the 50+ crowd is worth delving into. This population wants to work, needs to work, and has just as much drive and desire as the younger crowd to work, with a lot less responsibilities associated with a young family with children. Sometimes a company can hire retired people part-time to be a mentor to help bridge the gap. If a guy’s good, he can bring a lot of wisdom to the table. The expression “oldies but goodies” is as true about music as it is about employees. But then again, I’m one of those oldies, so what do I know?

Just for fun: What’s your favorite song that’s an “Oldie, but a Goodie”? Share in the comments below.

About the Author

Meredith Love

Meredith began her career with Kimmel & Associates as an Associate in 2002. She has a BA from Vanderbilt University and an MBA from Western Carolina University, with a concentration in Organizational Behavior.

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