In Germany, BMW has specifically adapted part of its production line in Dingolfing in Southern Bavaria to make it more comfortable for older workers. The area has been nicknamed ‘Altstadt‘ or ‘Old Town’ and has stools in place where workers once stood for long hours, its own relaxation room and the production line itself has been slowed down to around one third of the normal pace.
‘This is, worldwide, the first plant designed for such workers and is an example of the BMW motto; Today for Tomorrow,’ the company says.
To ensure as many older people as possible stay within the workforce it is vital to equip them with the skills to take advantage of technological change. Training is not just something for the young; companies, and indeed countries, need to develop lifelong learning to ensure existing workers do not fall into a skills gap.
And retention needs to be made more of a priority. Jobless older people face more difficulties in finding work than prime-aged workers so it is important to hold on to older skilled people whenever possible.
In the past, early retirement has been used as a quick and ‘painless’ way of reducing the size of the workforce without much thought to the impact on the overall reserves of skills and experience.
Weathering the storm
Aging societies are not destined to experience stagnation or a decline in living standards. With the right policies and incentives in place, economies can withstand this transition.
It will take decisive action by both government and business including the overhaul of both the private and public pension systems to encourage later retirement, the shift in benefits to favor later retirement and a reduction of tax penalties on earnings for those who are already collecting pensions.
It is certainly not easy, but these changes can pay immeasurable dividends in terms of skills retention, raised productivity and better social and economic cohesion between the different generations as our society evolves.