Australia – like many developed countries – has an ageing population. In fact, the proportion of Australian’s aged 65 and above is expected to almost double in the next 40 years. People are working longer too – according to ABS Chief Economist Bruce Hockman in just a decade the percentage of people still employed at the age of 65 (and older) grew from nine per cent in 2007, to 13 per cent in 2017.
 
Together, our ageing population and delayed retirement will have a significant impact on many areas of society, from our economy and healthcare system, to education and family life. It will also shape Australia’s workforce, and the many industries it serves.
 
A changing workforce in construction
 
Construction represents 9 per cent of Australia’s total workforce and is our largest employer of skilled trades. Given the scale of employment in this sector we know that as our population ages, our construction workforce will too.
 
But age isn’t the only demographic changing in construction. Historically construction has been considered a male industry, but alongside growing female participation rates and greater demand for diversity, women are increasingly drawn to careers in construction. Many businesses that value diversity are also breaking down employment barriers to invest in supporting and retaining people with disability.
 
Our ageing and increasingly diverse workforce presents many unique challenges and opportunities to this sector. Here we explore some of the ways these changes will shape construction businesses and employment opportunities in Australia.
 
Strong focus on skills
 
As technology evolves and the demands on industries change, a major challenge for any workforce is retaining enough skilled labour to meet market demand. The physical demands of construction work create additional resourcing challenges for an ageing workforce.
 
It is also becoming increasingly difficult to attract younger workers to the sector. According to one industry report, Australia’s young construction workforce (30yrs and under) grew less than one per cent from 1997 to 2017 – compared to growth of more than six per cent in construction’s older workforce (50+ years).
 
To prevent skills gaps and shortages from occurring in construction we must focus on future skills development and find ways to up-skill and retrain older employees. We must also invest in attracting, training and retaining younger workers, to ensure adequate skills and knowledge transfer can take place.
 
Workplace flexibility
 
To remain competitive and meet the needs of an ageing and increasingly diverse workforce, construction businesses will need to offer greater flexibility to employees. This will be particularly important for retaining people with:
 
  • The need for flexibility or reduced working hours.
  • Long commutes or a lack of transport options.
  • Poor health and/or disability – increasingly likely to affect an ageing workforce.
 
Despite growing evidence of the benefits of flexible work, the business case is not always well understood. Flexible work can lead to improvements in productivity and employee retention, higher job satisfaction, reduced sick leave and overheads, and access to a larger and more diverse pool of talent. 
 
Regardless of whether businesses build flexibility into their workplace, the market will certainly be asking for it. And it’s not just mature workers and people with young families that require flexibility – the majority of millennials entering the workforce are now demanding flexibility too.
 
Culture
 
Generational gaps in our workforce mean that each new generation is shaped by a variety of factors like changing political attitudes, technology influences, societal norms and expectations, and much more.
 
As time goes by organisational culture will naturally evolve as these influences change. And as our population lives and works longer there will even greater generational diversity influencing culture in the construction industry. Other changing demographics – like gender and disability – will contribute to the diversity of perspective that shapes our industry too.
 
We can’t stop our population from growing and ageing, but we do know that diversity and flexibility are good for business. So by looking ahead and anticipating the future needs of our workforce we have an opportunity to shape the skills, working environment and culture of the construction industry – for this generation and many generations to come.
 
How will your business prepare for a changing construction industry workforce? What benefits can an older, more experienced and diverse workforce bring to your industry? Please share your thoughts and comments via LinkedIn.
 
Alternatively, please contact a member of the Coates Hire team on 13 15 52.
 

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