Tuesday, April 01, 2008

oldies but goodies

Older workers in the workforce ...

"Looking for warehouse workers you can rely on? Older folks can be highly reliable and productive, provided you give them the support and benefits they need.

If you have anything to do with staffing warehouses and distribution centers, then you've probably given some thought to the subject of demographics lately.

Demographics? That statistics-heavy stuff you read about in social studies? Yes, indeed—and let's hope you paid attention in class that day. That's because any long-term strategy for staffing warehouses and DCs has to consider the changing demographic profile of the American workforce—or else risk being caught shorthanded.

Most likely, what you've heard on the topic has focused on today's multilingual workforce. That's something virtually all warehouses and DCs are dealing with, whether they're located in urban or rural locales. (See "¿habla warehousing?" DC VELOCITY, September 2007.)

Important as that is, it's not the only demographic issue you need to be aware of: Age should also be on your radar screen. The U.S. population is getting older; people are living longer and working longer. According to "65+ in the United States: 2005," a National Institute on Aging report compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of senior citizens in this country is expected to double by 2030, when nearly one in five Americans will be 65 or older.

Right now, that trend may not be apparent in many warehouses (youthful immigrant workers still dominate the average DC's workforce). Yet it's a big enough worry that the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) annual conference in 2007 included two sessions on "disruptive demographics," including lengthy discussions of the impact of an aging population on supply chains. At last year's Material Handling Logistics Summit, moreover, a group of business executives, material handling equipment vendors, and academics identified the impact of demographics on distribution and logistics as their top concern.

The graying of America is a trend that will affect most, if not all, warehouses and DCs. The downside, of course, is the inevitable loss of knowledge and experience when large numbers of baby boomers retire. But there is an upside, especially if you're willing to think of an aging population as an opportunity instead of a problem: Employing "over 50" workers can actually boost warehouse productivity.

Older achievers
That older workers should be more productive than the young 'uns may sound counterintuitive. After all, everyone knows that as people age, they think and move more slowly, and their eyesight, hearing, and muscle strength decline. That's true, but medical researchers, gerontologists, and safety engineers all agree that it's no reason to write off the over-50 crowd in a warehouse setting. In fact, research cited by the American Society of Safety Engineers and federal health agencies shows that workers 55 and older have fewer accidents on the job than do younger people. (When they are injured, though, they often take longer to recover.)

As for why older workers outperform their younger counterparts, there are a number of possible explanations, says Brian R. Sherman, director of ergonomic services for The Ergonomics Center of North Carolina at North Carolina State University. "They have more experience, and they may have moved up in their jobs so that now they're managers, or they may be leveraging support within their group," he suggests."    (Continued via DC Velocity)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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