Sunday, September 05, 2010

Case Study: BMW and Equipping the Factory for Older Workers

In "The Globe: How BMW Is Defusing the Demographic Time Bomb" from the March 2010 issue of Harvard Business Review, the authors looked at how BMW responded to what looked like an inevitable decline in the productivity of an aging workforce in the years ahead with an innovative, bottom-up approach for improving productivity. Subsequently, BMW has garnered more publicity for their efforts.

Rather than forcing its aging workers to retire, or even fire them, BMW management tinkered with one assembly line in one division of a huge auto plant, and turned it older overnight, staffing it so that the average age of workers would be 47 (what it's projected to be seven years from now). Then, in responses to asking the workers how to make things better, the company says it made 70 small changes in the workplace, to cut the chance of errors and reduce physical strain.
When workers said their feet hurt, the company made them special shoes, and put in wooden floors. Some got a place to sit: a hairdresser's chair, modified for the assembly line.

Rudolph Mohr, 56, has been working here for 35 years. He finally got a chance to stretch - right on the factory floor. "When I go home, I have more energy," Mohr said.

Some tools were improved, and new computer screens were introduced, with bigger type.
The direct investment in the 2017 line project was almost negligible, approximately €20,000. But the 70 changes increased productivity by 7% in one year, bringing the line on a par with lines in which workers were, on average, younger.

Source: CBS News "How BMW Deals With an Aging Workforce" (September 5, 2010)

Additional sources: BBC "A Factory Fit for an Aging Workforce"

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