Marginal Column

Photo | Prof. Sascha Stowasser

Professor Sascha Stowasser, D. Engr., is the director of the Institute for Applied Occupation Sciences (ifaa) in Düsseldorf and is senior lecturer at the Technical University of Karlsruhe.

The ifaa conducts research and offers services in the field of occupational science and business organization, with the primary aim of heightening productivity. In pursuing these efforts the institute works closely with the metalworking and electrical industries.

Demographic change

“What will happen if a company fails to make preparations?”

 

Professor Stowasser, when and how will demographic change take place?

The number of older employees and their percentage of staff as a whole will rise significantly. Conclusive findings in demographics leave no question about that. Europe’s population will decline by fifty million by the year 2050 – and that in spite of immigration. Even in 2020 recruiting junior staff will be considerably more difficult than today. At the same time a company loses critical expertise as each employee retires. The question is simply: What happens if a company does not make proper preparations?

How should companies prepare?

Indiscriminate action makes no sense. Middle-market companies will have to determine exactly which staff and skills they need to successfully pursue the corporate strategy over the long term. At the same time an analysis of the age structure reveals what the company will be facing in the future. In one company we found that an entire department would be retiring within the coming ten years. Does it then make sense, from the corporate viewpoint, to rebuild and maintain that activity inhouse or would outsourcing make more sense? In either case, which steps are required?

What can companies do to keep older employees fit for their jobs?

They have to offer new skills enhancement models aimed at lifetime learning while strengthening employee loyalty to the firm. In the future we will need even more employees who are prepared to continue learning throughout their careers. Those with a tenor twenty-year gap will find that their learning skills have gotten rusty. What’s important is to keep the right employees now and offer them appealing perspectives for the future. Flexible working models are one example.

Should companies devote greater attention and money to ergonomically correct workplaces for older employees?

Why just for older staff? We must never lose sight of the fact that today’s “youngsters” are tomorrow’s seniors. In recent years we have made a great deal of progress in ergonomics but often we do not feel the effects until ten or more years later. Do demographic developments offer any opportunities? Skillfully composed teams of mixed ages can combine the best characteristics of the entire spectrum – the physical strength, perception and speed of the younger with the highly developed composure, reliability and quality orientation of older staff.