Big Shoes to Fill

Boomer Employees are Starting to Eye the Exit

By Peri Kinder | Illustration by Donny Jennings

May 8, 2014

The American workforce is aging. In fact, the National Technical and Research Center issued a report in March 2013 that said by 2016, one-third of the workforce in this country will be 50 years or older.

After working their way up to leadership positions over more than four decades, the baby boomer generation is reaching retirement age, and taking their experience, knowledge and business savvy to warmer climates as they leave their industries. 

Will the younger generations be able to fill this void? How are companies developing procedures to help stem the tide of retirees? Several industries will be hit hard as the older generation retires, including the construction, banking and healthcare industries. But the news might not be all bad as business leaders find creative ways to leverage their employees’ decades of experience.

Building the Next Workforce

Throughout the nation, an educational process is being implemented to attract young workers to craft and labor positions in the construction industry. Organizations like the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) offer apprenticeships, scholarship programs and training in fields like carpentry and cement masonry, hoping to attract new laborers to the industry.

The problem is, most young people aren’t interested in a career that involves long hours and often grueling work. And too often, parents are discouraging children from entering the construction field, urging them to find easier ways to make a living.

To make matters worse, older tradesmen are unwilling to give away trade secrets to a generation they feel are lazy and unmotivated. Rich Holbrook is Layton Construction’s general superintendent and has worked with the company for 20 years. He sees filling craft/laborer positions to be the biggest problem for the future, even though construction jobs pay higher-than-average wages and can be a lifelong career.

“There’s a tendency in the younger generation to look for easier means and methods for earning money. They think this industry is backbreaking and difficult, but it can be very fulfilling and satisfying,” says Holbrook.

Roughly 25 to 30 percent of the employees at Layton Construction are in the Boomer age group. While most of those older workers are in management positions, several craftsmen—like 70-year-old Scott Dotson and 41-year Layton veteran Ray Nelson—are experts in their fields and will be sorely missed when they leave the company.

Additionally, a survey conducted by McGraw-Hill Construction for the American Institute of Architects (AIA), found that 79 percent of architecture firms don’t see new students taking the places of retirees.

Layton Construction Human Resource Director Gerald Biesinger says it’s imperative for companies to have a succession plan in mind and to identify critical positions that need to be filled.

Not all construction jobs are hard labor. The company hires accountants, graphic artists, computer specialists and several other positions that don’t require experience with carpentry work. “There’s more complexity to the construction industry than what people may think,” Biesinger says. “There are many positions that require college degrees like construction managers or civil engineers. There’s not a monolithic career path where you start out pounding nails and work your way to management.

“If you do management well, you’ll have a nice mix of experienced people, mid-range people and others just coming in to it. You have to stay balanced.”

Banking on the Future

Financial industries have traveled down some bumpy roads during the last decade, and many bankers in their 40s chose to pursue a different career, leaving a bit of a gap between the older generation and the next group of financial experts who will take over leadership positions.

  Bank of Utah President Doug DeFries believes that forging a connection with the younger generation will increase the odds that Millennials (those in their 20s and early 30s) will choose banking as a career. This younger generation, more than any other, embraces a nomad-like mentality, eagerly jumping from job to job and never hesitant to pack up and leave at any time.

DeFries’ challenge is to create an environment where these Millennials feel they have a voice in the banking industry, where they are involved in making decisions, and believe their opinions are listened to and valued.

“They are usually evaluating every six months whether they want to stay,” DeFries says. “They love to talk. They love to tell you how to run things. When their perception is they can’t run things, they leave. I spend a lot of time with the younger folks, listening to what they have to say.”

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