Billy Joel once suggested that "only the good die young," While that might be true in song lyrics, workforce statistics do not bear it out. Good workers are staying on the job longer than ever before. Twenty years ago, the mean age for retirement was 60 years. In 2016, it was 66.
According to a Gallup poll conducted last year, one in four workers who have reached their 67th birthday are still on the job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that by 2022, 25 percent of the workforce will be 55 and older. And according to U.S. Census estimates, the number of Americans age 65 and older will hit 83.7 million in 2050. That's nearly double the 43.1 million reported just five years ago.
Medical advances, insufficient savings, lack of pensions, and the potential inability of Social Security to support a large population in retirement will all contribute to workers staying on the job longer, both by choice and by necessity. The situation is even more pronounced in other parts of the world.
The Brookings Institute estimates that the median age in Europe will increase from 37.7 years to 52.3 years in 2050. While in Japan, a lack of immigration and low birth rates have created a situation where one-third of the population is already over age 60 and more than 12 percent is over 75. Sixty-seven percent of people age 54-65 are still in the workforce in Japan, according to a 2013 study.
Older workers are here to stay. So, as an industry, how do we accommodate an aging workforce?
A few months ago, Senior Editor Toby Gooley and I visited Itochu Shokuhin, a Japanese third-party company that distributes dry grocery goods to supermarkets and convenience stores. (See our story here.) The distribution facility we toured in Sagamihara City is highly automated for a reason.
"Automation makes the work simpler, so it opens jobs up to a wider range of workers," says Shintaro Kakoi, logistics manager. It also makes the work easier—especially in the case of jobs that would normally require considerable strength. "We can now hire people who are older to do that work because of the automation," Kakoi adds.
The management at Itochu Shokuhin realizes that its workers are its most important assets. They possess a great deal of institutional knowledge that it doesn't want to lose. Automation keeps them able to work and protects them from injuries that might occur from heavy lifting and repetitive tasks.
Last month, I wrote that automation will drive a new wave of manufacturing in the coming years. Similarly, automation in our distribution centers will help aging employees stay productive and safe throughout their working golden years.