Young at heart? Mercedes cultivates its aging workforce
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[June 19, 2018]
By Emma Thomasson
BERLIN (Reuters) - Too slow, inflexible,
forgetful, always off sick. Those are some attitudes about older workers
that carmaker Mercedes-Benz is trying to dispel as Germany grapples with
the challenges of an aging society.
The luxury brand owned by Germany's Daimler AG <DAIGn.DE> is waging a
company-wide campaign to combat those mistaken impressions. "We wanted a
paradigm shift in attitudes," said Sylvia Huette-Ritterbusch, a Mercedes
personnel expert whose job is to decide what skills the firm will need
One initiative Daimler has developed is an exhibition to challenge
stereotypes about aging. It has already been visited by 80,000 people,
including 2,500 of its factory managers and has now been brought to
Berlin and opened to the public.
Visitors are asked to choose between the "young" or "old" door to enter
the exhibition. Many retired visitors, who obviously feel young at
heart, come in through the "young" door.
Once inside, you can take tests to measure memory, balance, ability to
work in a team, the tightness of your grip, how high you can jump and
how easily you can relax.
It turns out that this correspondent, real age 45, has a biological age
of 36, but 119 years of life experience.
The initiative has been championed by Mercedes production head Markus
Schaefer, who says: "Many prejudices about aging are long out-of-date.
Every age has potential... age diversity means diversity of experience,
perspectives and new ideas."
The average age of Daimler's 136,000 employees in Germany is 44.7 years.
Rival carmaker BMW <BMWG.DE> expects workers aged over 50 to make up
more than 35 percent of its workforce by 2020, from 25 percent in 2014.
Germany faces a serious skills shortage as the post-war "baby boomer"
generation retires. The working-age population is expected to shrink by
some 2 million by 2030.
The shortage of workers is costing the economy up to 0.9 percentage
points of output a year, the IW German Economic Institute said recently.
The German government has moved to discourage people from retiring early
and the pension age is scheduled to rise gradually from 65 to 67 by
"Companies know it is not so easy attract young workers. They are
realizing they can't do without some of the baby boomers and will try
and hang onto them," said Andre Schleiter, a demographics expert at the
Bertelsmann Foundation think tank.
CAR-MAKING "YOU TUBE"
In addition to the exhibition, Mercedes has introduced demographic
audits across the company to encourage employees and management to
openly discuss the age structure of their teams and address ways to
promote cooperation between young and old.
[to top of second column]
People visit an exhibition about demografic change called 'Ey Alter'
by carmaker Mercedes Benz in Berlin, Germany June 5, 2018.
Initiatives that have come out of that process include the launch of a corporate
video platform where older workers can post YouTube-like tutorials on complex
working processes to pass on their expertise to the next generation.
The company has also launched formal joint toolmaking training for teenage
apprentices and employees aged over 50 and is testing ergonomic tools, such as
an exoskeleton which reduces muscle strain for workers installing parts
Other ideas include a system to help workers swap shifts more easily; allowing
older staff to work part-time as they approach retirement and hiring retirees
for short-term projects.
"People don't want to be on or off," said Huette-Ritterbusch.
Mercedes is not alone in seeking to address the challenge of an aging
German tech company SAP <SAPG.DE> runs a "mature talents" program which promotes
two-way mentoring between experienced employees and younger colleagues, as well
as a structured knowledge transfer process before older staff members retire.
BMW has taken steps including installing wooden floors to soften the impact on
workers’ knees and rotating jobs during shifts so staff avoid too many
Company initiatives and government policies seem to be bearing fruit: the
employment rate among those aged 55 to 60 has risen sharply in the last decade.
Germany now has one of Europe's highest rates of older people working.
"Companies are investing more systematically in people over 50 because it is
clear that there aren't enough young people coming up with qualifications," said
Schleiter. "In coming years, more companies will make a bigger commitment to
55-year-olds who still have another 12 years to work."
(Additional reporting by Michael Nienaber. Editing by Lauren Young and David
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