BMW revives an aging workforce

Still got it.Still got it.

The average age of a operators and mechanics in the construction business is well north of 50. And the whole industry is staring down the barrel of a demographic shotgun. When the boomers retire, qualified replacements will be scarcer than hens’ teeth.

German automanufacturer BMW realized it was facing the same aging workforce issues, but rather than carp about it, they decided to run an experiment. According to this report in Bloomberg:

In 2007, the luxury automaker set up an experimental  assembly line with older employees to see whether they could keep  pace. The production line in Dingolfing, 50 miles northeast of BMW’s Munich base, features hoists to spare aging backs, adjustable height work benches, and wooden floors, instead of rubber, to help hips swivel during repetitive tasks.

The verdict: Not only could they keep up, the older workers did a better job than younger staffers on another line at the same factory. 

Read the whole thing to find out how other German manufacturers are tapping into this underappreciated demographic.

The reality is you’re never going to get enough young workers to replace the old guys who are retiring, and it’s time the whole construction and equipment industry take a look at how it can make this physically demanding work easier for workers in the 50+ age and 60+ age ranges.

Hydraulics, joystick controls and suspension seats are certainly better than the old cable and drum operated machines. But that’s about it. Nobody I know of in this country has studied this problem closely. And contractor and business owner attitudes have certainly got to change. I saw a lot of ROPS open cabs out there this summer. You have to think that once a guy gets past 60 he may not want to start work every morning at 7 a.m., get baked in the heat and coated in dust for 10 hours. But a lot of these guys wouldn’t mind keeping their hand in the business, at least part time.

My brother-in-law retired as a truck crane and diesel mechanic 10 years ago, got tired of the easy life and bought and fixed up a used service truck. He now works for a few select customers, landowners and tree farmers mostly, at his own pace and schedule. Guys like this are going to take business away from you. So you might as well try to bring them back into the fold.