There is a pervasive and malignant myth in the construction industry that companies should not hire older employees simply because they are older. Life in the 21st Century has changed and firms cost themselves money and valuable resources by dismissing out-of-hand a pool of smart and dedicated older workers.

Resumes that show that a job applicant has 30 years of experience obviously indicate that the candidate is at least 50 years old, maybe 55, maybe even 60. Some companies make assumptions about such people that are stereotypical and usually wrong: the candidate is over the hill and lacks energy and ideas, is looking to coast into retirement, or won’t be up to speed for the firm’s fast-paced, technologically-advanced environment.

As a vice president at the largest U.S. construction executive search firm, I hear this misconception voiced by clients daily. And I know that judgment is a strategic error. It defies societal trends and is shortsighted and self-defeating.

Older employees work longer and want to mentor and train their younger colleagues. It’s their way of making a contribution. They can bring invaluable attributes to the job–experience, loyalty, hard work and leadership.

David Forrester agrees with this view. As president of Forrester Construction Co., Washington, D.C., he says, "Forrester Construction has had excellent success hiring and retaining older, more experienced professionals. They bring a tremendous amount of experience and wisdom and, importantly, enjoy passing along their substantial knowledge to our younger team members. It is truly a win-win situation."

A seasoned builder can make tough decisions quickly and with wisdom and can manage time well. The old pro won’t make assumptions about deliveries arriving on time or trust a sub with a sub-par history. Older employees can deliver a network of contacts, business savvy, a desire to mentor and a good old-fashioned work ethic to a company that gives them an opportunity.

Bridging the Gap

Statistics also support the view that older workers are an asset. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that they are less subject to work-related accidents. Beyond that, studies in 2001 found that older workers (aged 45 and up) lost an average of 9.7 days a year to absences, or only 1.8 days a year more than younger counterparts.

BLS also predicts that by 2008, the industry will need 196,000 workers to fill skilled jobs available in construction. And the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the number of people aged 55 and older will increase by 73% by 2020, while the number of younger workers will grow by only 5%.

These numbers all point to the conclusion that seniors who want to work are going to be necessary and important members of construction teams. "Once construction starts booming again, [companies] will need to keep their older, more veteran employees," says Jeffrey Robinson, president of PAS Inc., which studies contractor personnel trends.

Gary Siroky, president of CORE Construction, Las Vegas, likes hiring older people. "I have always found success in hiring seasoned, experienced superintendents, which in a number of cases means they are not far from retirement," he says. But he adds, "CORE definitely benefits from having older superintendents, as our younger team members benefit from their experience."

Mark Hourigan, president of Hourigan Construction, Richmond, Va., touts the virtues of one of his employees, Frank Hooks. After a career with a large masonry contractor and retiring, Hooks decided retirement was not for him and joined Hourigan.

Hooks serves as a "utility player" for Hourigan, moving with confidence into any situation where Mark needs him. He obtains permits, coordinates utilities for jobsites, represents the company at social functions and develops business through countless contacts. Hourigan calls Hooks "simply one of the most dedicated, loyal, knowledgeable and valuable employees" he has.

Frank Hooks is 82 years old.

Alan J. Laibson is a vice president at Kimmel & Associates, Asheville, N.C., and can be reached at