QUESTION: I own an air conditioning installation and repair business. In the last couple of months, two of my workers retired – and I can’t find anyone to replace them. My youngest employee is 45; I’m not sure how long I can stay in business if I can’t find good people to take over for workers who decide to hang up their hats.

ANSWER: You are not alone in your concern: There is a real shortage of young workers in the skilled trades. Almost three-quarters of firms predict a shortfall of qualified skilled trade workers by 2020, when an estimated 31 million positions will be left vacant due to Baby Boomer retirements. The average age of a construction worker in 2017 was 40 – and the workers are not getting any younger.

The question is, what can you – and the millions of others like you – do to find a solution to the problem? The issue needs to be addressed in two ways: First, you need to hang on to the workers you have for as long as possible; second, you must reach out to younger workers, and encourage them to consider a career in your business.

The good news is that many older workers are not eager to retire – they can’t afford it. A 2015 study found that 42 percent of workers over age 45 had saved less than $25,000 for retirement. As Medicare gobbles up a greater proportion of Social Security income, and Social Security itself is in jeopardy, many workers are opting to stay in the workforce longer. With some planning – and the outlay of some cash – you can hang onto your workers beyond age 65, and even bring retired workers back.

Find out who is thinking of retiring in the next few years. If they aren’t interested in staying on full-time, perhaps they’d be interested in working part-time on a flexible schedule or doing work on a contract basis.

Make sure your benefits package is a good one. Many workers, especially those around age 55 to 64 (not yet eligible for Medicare, but beginning to feel the effects of age), view a good health care package as a key element of their job. With the right package, you might not only retain your current workers, you might also attract other older workers from other firms. A generous retirement plan can also help attract these workers, who are often scrambling to make up for years of inadequate savings.

Stay in touch with retired employees. After a few months (or years) without a paycheck, your former workers might be willing to return – even if not full-time.

Offer training to older workers. Workers age 50 and up may be looking for work that is less physically demanding, or just different. Offer your workers a chance to retrain for a different position, perhaps in exchange for training any new hires.

Many young people are not aware of the benefits of being in a skilled trade. A welder, with only a high school diploma, can earn a median wage of  $40,240 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Jobs in heating air conditioning and refrigeration – the work you can offer – pay a median of $47,080 per year, with only an associate’s degree or certificate. In contrast, the median wage for a high school teacher is $59,170 per year – and that requires at least four years of college plus – usually – additional work at the post-graduate level. With the national average cost of a four-year degree from a public college shooting up to more than $16,000 a year, young people may want to consider starting work sooner and avoiding student debt by getting a two-year degree or certificate.

Participate in Career Fairs, Apprenticeships and Internships. Career Fairs at local high schools offer employers a chance to show students the advantages of pursuing a skilled trade. In addition, many high schools and community colleges offer apprenticeships (in which students are paid to learn on the job) or internships (in which students spend part of their day shadowing employees in different industries). By agreeing to help train a young worker, you may find yourself with a reliable employee for years to come. For more on apprenticeships, Career Days, or internships, you should contact your local community college or high school.


Use the Internet and Social Media to Get the Word Out to Young People. Twenty years ago, an ad in a local newspaper was still a great way to find new employees. Today, that is no longer true. Most job seekers turn to sites like or or find them through media like If you are not online, you will miss out on hiring younger workers.

We hope this information will help and wish you the best of good luck.

The lawyers at GWINN LEGAL PLLC are experienced attorneys and are happy to answer your questions. Give us a call for a free initial telephone consultation about your legal needs. For consideration of your questions in our web column, please submit your inquiry on the “Contact Us” page of our website at

Information provided on “Ask the Lawyer” is current as of the date of publication. Laws and their interpretation are subject to change. The material provided through “Ask the Lawyer” is informational only; it should not be considered legal advice. Submitting a question to “Ask the Lawyer” does not create an attorney-client relationship between the person submitting the question and GWINN LEGAL PLLC. To view previous columns, please visit our website.

By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.

Attorney and Counselor at Law
901 Wilshire Drive, Suite 550
Troy, MI 48084
(248) 247-3300
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