Businesses seeking older skilled workers to fill gap

The urgent need for skilled workers is one of the greatest challenges that businesses in fields like manufacturing, construction and energy face. One new pool they are increasingly tapping is older workers—headed for retirement—in their own shops. These individuals’ talent and deep institutional knowledge may be the key to a company’s continued profitability.

Today, 19 percent of manufacturing employers are seeking to attract older employees to some sort of phased retirement—up from 6 percent just four years ago, according to the Society for Human Resources Management.

But how to do this, especially in fields with physical demands that might challenge older workers?

The highest profile model is BMW, according to a recent Star Tribune article:

A decade ago, BMW realized a fifth of its German employees would be age 65 by 2020. It started a pilot program to retrofit one auto plant in Germany. Managers enlarged type on factory computers, installed ergonomic assembly tools and replaced concrete floors with wooden ones that were kinder to feet.

They bought workers better shoes and had physical therapists retrain line workers on safer ways to move.

With the changes, pros with seniority stuck with jobs longer. BMW spread the pilot program to other plants.

Here in Minnesota, some manufacturers are taking this sort of forward-looking approach in their own factories. One is Dotson Iron Castings. According to the Star Tribune,

The Mankato foundry recently had 15 of 140 employees retire and has several more who are approaching age 70. To boost retention, owner Denny Dotson and CEO Jean Bye recently oversaw the installation of robotic lifts so workers no longer have to haul 50-pound castings to de-burring machines. They bought new tools to get workers farther from the 2,000-degree furnace. They also rotate people through jobs every two hours to lessen repetitive injuries.

Not surprisingly, working past age 65 often benefits workers themselves, not just employers and Minnesota’s economy.

The economists, academics and journalists who gather annually at Age Boom Academy, a workshop at Columbia University, have documented how this happens. Working beyond 65 increases physical, emotional and cognitive health, they say.

A report on the conference in the Star Tribune gave details:

‘Once people are out of work, almost 85 percent say they would like to return to work,’ said Ursula Staudinger, a Columbia psychologist who focuses on life span psychology, speaking at the event.

While still employed, people tend not to appreciate the benefits of working until ‘after we have that vast time of private life and leisure,’ Staudinger said. ‘If all of our life is vacation, vacation loses its value.’

There is a financial pay-off too. By working longer, employees can increase their savings and postpone claiming Social Security, which boosts their benefits by 8 percent for every year they hold off until age 70.

Linda Fried, former director of geriatric medicine at Johns Hopkins, summed it up this way: “Having a reason to get up in the morning and having activities that matter in the world,” she said, “are the No. 1 thing that keeps people well.”