The impact of the demographic
transition on manufacturing
Effects of an ageing workforce in German
rn-Henrik Thun, Andreas Gro
ßler and Switbert Miczka
Industrieseminar, Mannheim University, Mannheim, Germany
Purpose – The purpose of the paper is twofold: to discuss characteristics and potential effects of an
ageing workforce and to present the perception manufacturing managers have of the inﬂuence of
demographic change on the manufacturing function.
Design/methodology/approach – The phenomenon of demographic change and the
characteristics of ageing workers are presented based on a literature study. In addition, the results
of a survey within German industrial ﬁrms are put forward, in which operations managers were asked
about their perception of older workers in manufacturing.
Findings – Effects of the demographic transition will inﬂuence manufacturing companies in every
economy. An ageing workforce is well suited to support quality-focussed manufacturing strategies.
Yet, the adoption of new manufacturing technologies might be hampered by the older employees’
unwillingness to learn that is assumed commonly.
Research limitations/implications – The empirical research provides a ﬁrst look at the
substantial impact that demographic change will have on manufacturing companies. The discussion is
based on trends in Germany and on the reported perceptions of German manufacturing managers;
however, it is argued that implications can be transferred to other economies.
Practical implications – Practitioners will see the necessity to consider the impact of
demographical change in future decisions. It is discussed which commonly held beliefs about older
workers are justiﬁed based on scientiﬁc research.
Originality/value – Focusing on the demographic transition, this paper adds an important aspect to
the academic discussion of the future of manufacturing, highlighting the signiﬁcant consequences that
demographic change will have on manufacturing and suggesting concepts for addressing the
challenge in practice. Furthermore, it provides ﬁrst empirical results of the perception of
manufacturing directors about this topic.
Keywords Demographics, Older workers, Employees, Manufacturing industries, Germany
Paper type Research paper
Several developments are currently reshaping the business environment that
manufacturing companies are acting in. As most prominent issue, the technological
state of the art changes rapidly; technological innovations have a signiﬁcant effect on
products and their underlying manufacturing processes. Besides, such technological
change, issues such as ecological awareness and an increasing demand for both global
sales and global sourcing challenge manufacturing companies in their quest for
sustainable competitiveness. However, to our knowledge one of the important societal
trends has not been taken into account prominently, despite its obvious potential to
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Received November 2006
Revised May 2007
Accepted June 2007
Journal of Manufacturing Technology
Vol. 18 No. 8, 2007
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited