BMW Copes with Aging Workforce by Making Simple Changes on Assembly Line

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For about $50,000, BMW may have begun solving a problem that will be plaguing many automakers: an aging work force. It's not just automakers that will be facing this problem, however, as populations worldwide are getting older; by 2020, the number of people over 65-years old is expected to increase to 16% in America, 21.6% in Germany, and over 27% in Japan.

In order to counteract this, BMW has taken it upon itself to figure out how to make its workplaces easier to work in and more efficient for older workers.

Instead of solving the "old worker" problem by forcibly retiring its workers after a certain age, BMW has decided to help its workers help themselves. An experiment was performed by aging one assembly line to the point where the average worker's age was 47-years old. This is significant, because 47 is the projected age of BMW workers by 2017.

Helmut Mauermann, a BMW production manager, told CBS news: "[Firing] might be the simple way to solve the problem, but we have a social contract within Germany, or at the BMW group, where we say, that's not the solution we will look for - especially since we don't have enough younger people to replace [them with], so it wouldn't work even if we wanted to."

The point of this rearrangement was to see how the assembly workers behaved and then how they themselves would improve the work environment. Some examples include sore feet leading to custom shoes and wooden floors, as well as unique chairs rigged to fit on the assembly line. Other "simple" solutions were newer computer monitors with more-legible letters and more ergonomic tools.

All in all, BMW said it made 70 small changes in the workplace with the total cost of the project, including lost time, estimated at $50,000.

Mauermann continues, "All these changes are extremely obvious, but you won't come to these ideas sitting somewhere in an office and then thinking, 'How can I change the working place of a worker who is half a mile away?'...It's so simple, but it seems to work."

The best part about the project? According to the Bavarian automaker, productivity went up seven percent, non-attendance fell below the factory's average and the assembly line's defect rate dropped to zero!

If BMW's project works (and it seems to, as they plan to spread the improvements to other plants), this is going to be the beginning of people working longer and more comfortably.

By Phil Alex

Source: CBS News

[Note: Photos do not depict the assembly line mentioned in the article]