BMW AG has implemented many revisions at its production lines to increase efficiency as well as to account for the aging workforce. About 5 years ago, its managers realized that as Germany’s population is aging, so would its workers. They calculated that the workers’ age will average from 41 to 46 by 2017.
They didn’t want to wait that long to know what happens next so in 2007, an experimental assembly line was conducted on older employees to determine if they can stay with the pace. BMW’s production line in Dingolfing, which is located 50 miles northeast of its Munich headquarters, has hoists to help with aging backs. Its work benches’ height could be adjusted and it has wooden floors rather than rubber so that hips can easily swivel in doing repetitive tasks.
BMW learned that the older workers could keep up and they actually performed better than younger workers on another line at the same plant. So far, BMW has been able to implement these changes at many of its plants. Aside from an aging workforce, Germany is also experiencing a shortage of qualified engineers. That’s why many within the industry have made the decision to retain its good workers as long as possible by making plants adapt to what they need.
This is an urgent issue for luxury automakers like BMW and Audi since they depend more on labor than the volume manufacturers. The experience of these older workers on the assembly line just is irreplaceable. Stefan Bratzel, the director at the Center of Automotive Management in Bergisch-Gladbach, near Cologne, said that German automakers treat a shortage of engineers and skilled workers as a major issue, which will probably become acute within the next several years.
BMW said that over a dozen modifications have been made at the Dingolfing plant such as movable instruction screens with bigger letters and a magnifying glass, and a two-hour rotation cycle so that workers remain alert by switching tasks on a regular basis.