A Graying Workforce Can Keep You in the Black

Follow my blueprint for success to hire and retain older workers who offer great experience, a proven work ethic and good customer service skills.
A Graying Workforce Can Keep You in the Black
Jim Kneiszel

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It’s hard to find good workers today. I hear this frequently from portable restroom operators.

Portable sanitation can be a grueling business during the busy season, with workers running construction routes all week and then placing dozens or hundreds of restrooms at special events and festivals on the weekend. A good restroom technician requires many critical skills, from safely driving a loaded vacuum truck, to lifting and servicing units, to communicating with customers.

In a good economy, there’s intense competition for workers who can handle all of these tasks and are diligent, honest and hardworking. It’s easy to imagine PROs with more orders coming in than they have the staff to finish the job. Where can you turn for help? How about older workers, those folks winding down toward retirement or in retirement but looking for something to do or a supplemental income?

LABOR SHORTAGES

In a recent article, entitled Rethink Employee Retention: 7 Guidelines for Engaging and Accommodating Your Older Staff, Ruth Crocker, Ph.D., advocates for tapping into an older workforce. The writer, who gives workshops on wellness topics (www.ruthwcrocker.com), says service companies can lose out if they don’t find ways to retain or consider the growing tide of baby boomers who offer great productivity on the job.

“Key industries, especially those that rely on workers with proven performance, knowledge, skills and self-confidence, will be forced by labor shortages to rethink employee retention and how best to ensure health and safety by adjusting equipment and the work environment,” Crocker says.

Crocker says the baby-boomer generation now makes up one-third of the U.S. workforce, and their numbers are growing at the same time job growth is outpacing available workers in general. Employers could tailor jobs to better fit the lifestyle and limitations common to older workers and solve some of the challenges of labor shortages.

“There are many fears and myths about ‘getting old’ in our culture,” Crocker says. “But the reality is that people are living longer and healthier and can remain robust contributors to the workforce much longer than any previous generation.”

GETTING STARTED

That got me to thinking about ways PROs could adjust their job descriptions and equipment inventory to take advantage of a graying workforce. Considering some of Crocker’s tips, here’s my blueprint for retaining and attracting older workers who can offer great experience, a proven work ethic and good customer service skills:

Invest in ergonomics.

Not just for older workers, but it makes sense to buy products designed to improve safety and reduce the risk of injury for everyone on the job. If you don’t have one, consider buying a forklift to make it easier to store and deploy restrooms. If not a forklift, choose a few restroom dollies so an easier transport option is always available. Do you have a service truck with a hydraulic lift to deliver and pickup restrooms? If not, this would be a great addition for your next rig. How about automatic transmission? Many workers today find it less stressful or strenuous to drive an auto over a stick. Configure your service trucks for easier hoisting of hoses, better access to toolboxes and more effortless cab entry and exit. Air-ride and other creature comforts will be appreciated by every driver, but especially welcome to older technicians.
 
Create more part-time positions.

Some small-business owners prefer their employees work as much as possible, even making overtime mandatory to cover all the routes and weekend festival work. You may find a lot of benefits to creating more positions and keeping down hours for each worker. First, young workers today value their free time and you will likely have an easier time retaining these workers by keeping their schedule to 40 or 50 hours maximum. And many older workers are looking to slow down and work flexible hours that allow them plenty of free time. Older workers may be perfectly happy working long festival weekends as long as their weekdays are free. More and more, people like continuing to work even after they retire and start collecting Social Security payments. But tax rules penalize them if they collect a big paycheck in addition to their retirement benefits. Bottom line, if you need extra workers this summer, tailor part-time jobs to mesh with the lifestyle of older workers.

Choose restrooms you feel are easiest to maneuver.

Every pound counts when you’re asking an older worker to set up restrooms at a special event or construction site. Ample grips and handles designed to help lighten the load will be appreciated by older members of your crew. At the next WWETT Show; lift, push and pull all of the units in the marketplace and find the model you think would be easiest to move around in the field. Also, look for transport trailers that keep the bed lower to the ground for easier restroom loading. Think about mounting restrooms on single- and double-unit trailers like those towed to fields for agricultural customers for more carefree placement at any site.

Promote wellness in the workplace.

A wellness program shows all of your workers you care about their health, and this reduces use of sick days, helps curb health insurance rate hikes and builds loyalty from your crew. Of all the perks you can offer employees, this one might be the most valued by your older workers. Bring in health care workers and offer free screening for blood pressure, hearing loss and cholesterol. Offer help with losing weight, starting a fitness routine and quitting smoking. Dump the donut routine and hand out free healthy snacks like fruit and protein bars in the break room. Offer incentives like bonuses or paid time off for meeting goals for healthier lifestyles.

Team older and younger technicians.

Split your crews generationally. Send out a service truck with a 60-year-old driver and a 20-year-old helper. Each will have something to offer their partner. The older worker may help the younger employee develop an old-school work ethic, problem-solving skills and positive communication with customers. The younger worker may have an edge at following routing software, driving in rush-hour traffic and carrying a little more of the load when delivering and picking up units.

Ease into technology upgrades.

Working routing programs, emailing reports or handling electronic invoicing might not come as naturally to an older technician. However, if you value your older workers, show patience when teaching them to use these tools for building efficiency. Offer ample training opportunities for new technology. If you have crews running several daily routes, consider running one truck without utilizing the routing software. Maybe you have a more compact construction route where technology wouldn’t be necessary for now. Let older workers adapt to the technology at their own pace with the understanding that everyone will have to use it someday.

EXPERIENCE COUNTS

Your veteran or post-retirement workers may not be able to toss around restrooms like the 20-something members of your crew. But they have tremendous work and life experience that can enrich your company. Always be looking for ways to best utilize the graying workforce and you’ll be rewarded in many ways.



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