Thinking ahead of time: BMW and its aging workforce

Interesting | September 11th, 2010 by 3
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A report published recently by CBS analyzes the way BMW is thinking ahead of times, not only about automotive sales and product strategy, but also …

A report published recently by CBS analyzes the way BMW is thinking ahead of times, not only about automotive sales and product strategy, but also about its most valuable resource: the human capital.

According to the report, BMW came to the conclusion that its workforce is getting old. Projections indicate that in 2017 the average age of  BMW workers would be 47. This trend is common in Germany and Europe as well. The trend has been dubbed “Silver Tsunami” by drawing a parallel to the gray hair of the elderly people.

Compared to US, this aging trend is more obvious in Germany: while the percentage of Americans over 65 in total population will be of approx. 16% in 2020, it is believed that the Germans over 65 will represent at that same time approx. 21.6% of the entire country, hence more than a fifth.

Thinking ahead of time: BMW and its aging workforce

An older workforce implies both good and bad outcomes: more patience and skill that come from experience, but also less flexibility, strength and vision, according to the studies. Take that and apply it to a production line that relies on precision engineering and an output of more than 1.200 cars a day and you will spot a really sensitive situation.

But how can BMW deal with this? According to the report, some apparent measures may include forcing aging workers to retire, or even more dramatically, firing them. But this solution wouldn’t work, as social contracts are in place both in the company and throughout the country. Moreover, the available young workforce could not make up for all the jobs needed.

Hence, BMW looked ahead of time in search for a viable solution. They got their heads out of the statistics and forecasts, turned to people and deployed an interesting experiment. They put together a team of workers from an assembly line in an important BMW plant, team that would have an average age of 47 (the average age of BMW workers in seven years from now, according to projections). Then they asked them for feedback regarding the work conditions and environment.

The next step was for BMW to start implementing the feedback they got from workers: special shoes for those whose feet hurt, wooden floors, special chairs to sit on, improved tools or bigger computer screens. All in all, 70 small changes were implemented to reduce physical stress and the chance of errors. Results were quite impressive: productivity increased 7%, absenteeism rate decreased below plant’s average, and the respective assembly line’s defect rate dropped to zero. And all this was accomplished at a small cost: approx. 50,000 USD, including lost time.

It is obvious that these are only some small measures, and they cannot be applied to the entire manufacturing process, but it’s still something. And according to the report, the experiment will be replicated in other plants as well, US included, and re-branded as a part of BMW’s plan to improve productivity.

[Source: CBS News]

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000163817321 X5SoB

    I’ve been considering buying a third car, as a toy, either a Z3 or 4 or a Boxster, but after seeing this on Sunday Morning, I am leaning toward the the Z. BMW is truly a visionary company.

  • blk7

    Very cool. Good job BMW for looking out for your own people.

  • http://www.american-experience.us/d.html Darryl Coberly

    What a superb design you have :) your weblog articles are pretty useful too. Thank you :-)

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