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Your workforce is aging: what you need to know about adapting

As manufacturing workforces age, employers will face a number of issues that will have to be addressed.


February 23, 2017
by CCOHS

Canada’s aging workers are making up a greater portion of the workforce. By 2021, workers 55 years and older will account for nearly one person in four (24%) of the labour force – the highest proportion for this demographic on record.

What does this mean for employers? Manufacturers could face labour and skills shortages as these workers retire. Accommodating their needs will play a key role in labour and skills retention. 

Some companies will retain skilled older workers while others will opt to accommodate those who seek part-time work or other flexible arrangements.

How aging affects workers will vary. Older workers may experience physical, sensory and cognitive changes. On the other hand, they also have experience, knowledge and insight, making them a valuable resource. And studies show their turnover is lower, they’re more dedicated and they have positive work values. It may take them longer to complete tasks, but their work tends to be more accurate and they make better decisions.

Fewer injuries

They also experience fewer injuries, although when they do get hurt, injuries are often more severe and take longer to heal.

Younger workers tend to get more eye or hand injuries, while older workers report more back injuries. Repetitive motion injuries develop over time so older workers also report more musculoskeletal injuries. And there are other challenges to consider, such as evolving family responsibilities that involve caring for sick spouses and elderly parents.

How should you accommodate them? Matching workstations and job tasks to the needs of the individual employees benefits all workers, but here are some specific tips for the older generation:

• Adapt lighting, heat and ergonomics to meet their comfort levels.
• Adjust workstations and match job tasks to their needs, taking into account physical capabilities and limitations.
• Offer flexible work arrangements such as job sharing, flex hours, part time work and other kinds of reduced scheduling that help them balance responsibilities at work and home.
• Design and deliver appropriate education or training to aid learning. Older workers may take longer to learn new material and need more assistance or practice than younger workers, but there’s usually no difference in skill levels once a task is mastered.
• Stimulate interest in their work by broadening the range of their experiences. Encourage them to mentor younger colleagues or facilitate training of other older workers.
• Provide workplace wellness programs with access to services such as employee assistance, fitness and nutrition programs.
Addressing the immediate needs of older workers will go a long way to ensuring an experienced, dedicated pool of employees is in place.

This article was contributed by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), Canada’s national resource for the advancement of workplace health and safety. It promotes the physical, psychosocial and mental health of working Canadians by providing information, training, education and management systems that advance health and safety.

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