BMW tackles issue of aging work force

Company fine-tunes its age distribution at Leipzig, offers health programs

Munich. As it planned its new Leipzig factory, BMW gave serious thought to trends in the age of its employees.

Ernst Baumann, the BMW board member responsible for human resources, believes the company's Today for Tomorrow project, which addresses matters related to aging, is on track.

"We have specifically controlled the age distribution in Leipzig," he told Automobilwoche.

The project's objective has been to establish an employee age distribution that better fits the labor market.

"Theoretically, it would be ideal to have equal numbers of employees in each age group," Baumann said. That way, the number of younger employees the company hires would be the same as the number of older employees that leave.

Greater age distribution

At the launch of BMW's Regensburg factory in 1986, the average employee age was 30, and a healthy age distribution resulted from strong growth and a steady inflow of younger employees.

With the Leipzig launch, BMW is trying to achieve a greater distribution across individual age groups, since the company is no longer figuring on major growth in the number of employees.

Baumann said 22 percent of the industrial employees at Leipzig are between 40 and 50 and 3.7 percent are older than 50.

One emphasis for the Today for Tomorrow project is "to create the consciousness that the evolving age structure of the population in the company is becoming an issue" at all management levels, Baumann said.

The demands on employees, along with their capacity to carry out certain tasks, are constantly changing. "At some point, you just can no longer bend over into automobiles numerous times each day," he said.

Fitness centers

BMW is addressing this with ergonomics and offering physical fitness activities and therapy at its so-called Backup Centers at a number of locations. These centers are designed for injury prevention and rehabilitation.

To meet another goal in the Today for Tomorrow project, BMW is focusing on employees' "psychological occupational capacity." Psychological flexibility in all age groups is supposed to be maintained by giving workers jobs that offer changing challenges as a benefit.

This calls for the best-possible application of various age groups' special skills. "Cooperation between young and old is being raised to the level of a learning principle," Baumann said.

BMW is also concerned about other problems stemming from an aging work force. "We need exit models that are differentiated for age," he said. "In the long-term, we can't finance a situation where all employees move into the light-duty phase at 60 and into retirement at 63. But we can't contemplate everyone working until 65 or 67 either."

Tags: Automakers BMW

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