Bill Rossiter 
Bill Rossiter 

They say age is just a number. But when it comes to an aging workforce, numbers matter. Every day, 10,000 of the 81 million Baby Boomers (defined today as ages 54-72) retire from the U.S. workforce. While this number is shocking, the bigger eye-opener is that the Gen X population (estimated today to be 61 million) is not nearly plentiful enough to replenish these jobs.

This phenomenon is upon us. We can’t change it, but we can work to understand it and leverage it to our benefit. Here are a few things to consider as you prepare for the inevitable changes to come.

Free Agency
Gen Xers (defined today as ages 36-53) will be in more demand than ever, as they have the experience and seasoning to fill the mid- to senior-level positions that Boomers are leaving. Since the Gen X hiring pool is smaller by about 20 million, competition for this talent will intensify, making this shortage of expertise look more like professional sports industry vying for top performers with defined experience, and driving high demand and salaries for key positions.

Experts say the biggest demand will probably be business folks in their mid to late 40’s – those with a good balance of experience, energy and innovative ideas. If you are a Gen Xer, sharpen your resume, add any additional experiences to round out your expertise, and get ready to be scouted!

Bring Sexy Back
Since simple math tells us the Gen X backfill will not be enough, employers will need to attract the attention of the Millennial population (nearly 90 million strong). Unfortunately, there is a strikingly low interest level for this group (aged 20-35) to either join the construction industry – either as labor or even taking over for a a family business. That means succession planning for family-owned construction or building products companies is extremely limited – spurring businesses to sell, be acquired, or worse – close down.

Adobe Stock/Elenathewise

While the labor shortage is driving the industry to look for innovative ways to streamline or even automate installation, those changes only make it more important for the operations side to attract strong talent to guide these companies through this change.

Our industry is bursting with opportunity to pair young entrepreneurs with small companies in need of a succession plan. To get it done, the industry needs to find a way to bring sexy back (apologies to Justin Timberlake), or it will suffer from labor shortages not just on the installer side, but also in management and business roles too.

Skate Where the Puck Will Be
Another part of engaging the Millennial group is locating your jobs where the candidates are going to be. Just because you have an open job doesn’t mean Millennials will clamor to fill it. And no, it’s not because they’re lazy. Yes, they grew up in a world of participation trophies, but also in a time of unprecedented change. They’re natural innovators because it’s always been a part of their life and their expectations.

Millennials are selective in what they do and where they live. They want work that gives them a sense of fulfillment and opportunities for work-life balance. Your challenge is to find ways to appeal to those desires. That could mean finding creative ways to “be present" in growing markets and urban areas, rethinking your work structure to incorporate flexible work-from-home options, or finding other ways to foster a culture that offers more than just a paycheck.

Positioned For Success
Leaf through typical industry trade publications and you’ll see that many ads (and the features they tout) are similar to those from 10 or 15 years ago. We haven’t changed much, but the expectations of those we serve have. Just pick up Dwell magazine, watch HGTV, or go spend time on Houzz or Pinterest. You’ll see what the industry really looks like – and more importantly, what consumers and trade (who now act like consumers) are more interested in.

Why would 44 million people watch HGTV every week, or post 14 million pictures on Houzz if this wasn’t truly a sexy industry?

These are not just commodity products, they are enablers to creating a unique environment for our largest investment in life. A few leading brands are carving out positions that reflect that. “A door is not just a door, it’s the centerpiece of the beauty of each room,” says Masonite, the leading door manufacturer. Our customers, like many Millennials, are selective, and looking for the emotional connection in our approach. This means the work we do to appeal to one can also help in our efforts to reach the other.

Ready, Set, Shift!
They say numbers don’t lie. We can’t change the raw data behind our aging workforce. But we can read between the numbers to find ways to shift the numbers in our favor.

There are numerous opportunities out there to attract new blood into the industry, both as employees and customers. The companies that leverage these changes most effectively will be the ones that see the positive change in their numbers, specifically profitability.