The Construction Industry’s Challenge in Retaining Mature Workers

The Construction Industry’s Challenge in Retaining Mature Workers

04th May 2017

At the beginning of February, 2017, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) launched its Fuller Working Lives initiative which is designed to keep more people in their fifties and sixties in work.  According to Damian Hinds, Works and Pensions Secretary, in 2019 on in four of the working age population was over the age of 50 and this is projected to increase to one in three by 2022 – he predicts that by 2035, workers over the age of 50 will comprise half of the UK adult population.  Adding one year to people’s working lives could benefit the economy by adding 1% to GDP each year, a sum equivalent to £18 billion.

The UK government recognises that the country’s population is ageing and is keen for more people to stay in work longer and the Fuller Working Lives initiative is vital in achieving this aim.  However, the dropout rate in the construction industry is high with nearly 30% of men aged 45 planning to leave the industry by the time they are 50. 

A DWP survey of men aged 50 – 64 was held in order to discover why they left their last jobs and 46% of those who worked in construction revealed that they left due to ill health.  This was a significantly higher number than in any other sector, including other manual and skilled areas like agriculture and mining.  The average across all sectors for men leaving work due to ill health was just 25%, so it seems the construction industry is plagued with ill health.  The second most common reason for men leaving work, accounting for 26% in the construction industry and 39% across all sectors, was retirement.  When it comes to women aged 50 – 64 leaving the construction industry, DWP research reveals that the two main reasons are retirement (accounting for 39% of leavers) and dismissal or redundancy (which accounts for 18%) – this compares with all sectors to 41% and 14% respectively. 

These figures seem to demonstrate that people are leaving the industry because they are forced to rather than because they want to.   While working conditions have improved significantly in recent years, construction work is a physical job and results in physical wear and tear on the body.  However, losing nearly 50% of the over-50s workforce to health problems represents a pronounced problem for the construction industry here in the UK, where we are also experiencing a burgeoning skills shortage.

When an older construction worker leaves the industry, it’s not just the loss of a worker, but also the loss of the decades of experience and knowledge that person has brought to the table.  Even the very best of young workers are likely to take years to build up the same degree of knowledge and experience and this means that heritage skills, like specialist stone working and woodworking, may disappear altogether. 

Retaining more of the mature workers could help to address this loss of skills as they will be able to pass on their knowledge and experience to younger workers.  These older workers are usually quite motivated when it comes to work and often boost productivity in the workforce.  Addressing the health challenges felt by older members of the construction workforce is likely to prove challenging for the industry as a whole.