Although the labor pool for the trades is tight, most remodeling companies wouldn't go looking for workers in the over–55 crowd. “But the maturity that comes with an older worker is particularly valuable in this field,” says Roger Herman, workforce futurist and CEO of The Herman Group. “In most cases, the physical aspects aren't a problem.”
Take Chuck Jones, for example. Four years ago, just over the age of 60 and lacking any carpentry experience, he approached Roy Bryhn, owner of Bryhn Construction, Flemington, N.J., for a job as an entry-level carpenter.
“I thought he'd lost his mind,” says Bryhn, who knew Jones as the owner of the Professional Employer Organization that ran Bryhn Construction's payroll. Bryhn's business peer group told him to steer clear, believing that Jones was too old for the job's physical demands and that the learning curve was too steep. For his part, Jones told Bryhn he wasn't interested in special pay, merely wanting to do something different with his retirement years, and that he would occasionally lend his expertise to the remodeling company's office issues as a consultant. That sold Bryhn, who says he was blunt about expectations when deciding to give Jones a chance. He didn't expect Jones to last more than a few weeks.
“Older workers should be treasured and sought out,” Herman says. “They are more mature, more careful with a customer's job, and are more concerned about safety and doing things the right way because that's part of their value system.” As far as the physicality of a job, it comes down to evaluating candidates on a case-by-case basis.
“When I started, Roy didn't want me to move off the grass and go up a ladder until he knew what I was capable of,” Jones says. “Now I'm working on second floors and doing roofs.” Jones says he's in the best shape he's been since he was in the Marines.
In an AARP survey of baby boomers, 70% of respondents said they plan on staying in the workforce post-retirement. Such statistics, combined with the dwindling labor pool, make it more likely that employers will have to consider hiring workers with life experience.
“There may be challenges to [physical jobs],” says Deborah Russell, AARP's director of workforce issues. “But we're seeing innovation on the part of industry to address that. In the health care industry, for example, where there are physical aspects to a nurse's job, some hospitals have invested money in hydraulic systems that make patient beds easier to move.”
Meanwhile, Jones has worked up to carpenter's assistant in the 10-person company, and is happy to be there. “The key to getting along with the ‘real carpenters,'” he says, “is showing up on time and doing the work … being dependable.”
And Bryhn — who acknowledges that Jones' human resources background made the decision to hire him easier — would consider hiring other older workers. “He is even-keeled and responsible,” Bryhn says of Jones. “It's not all about who can lift the most two-by-fours.”