As America’s baby boomers grow older and creakier, some companies are trying to keep those with hard-to-replace skills fit enough to remain on the job.
Harley-Davidson has a gym at its Menomonee Falls, Wis., factory where workers like Mike Snow, above, get exercise routines tailored to their jobs.
To avoid the early retirement of key workers, employers have redesigned work areas to minimize kneeling or awkward twisting of muscles and joints. Others have gone even further. Duke Energy Corp. offers a special stretching program for its line technicians before they start a shift. Harley-Davidson Inc. has trainers stand ready to ice down inflammations between shifts at one of its engine plants.
Given high unemployment, companies could hire young workers to replace older ones, but many jobs require years of on-the-job training. Boomers “can be role models and mentors for the younger folks,” says Joel Lunsford, a training manager at Duke Energy, an electric-power utility based in Charlotte, N.C. It takes about eight years for a line technician—people who make repairs on power lines—to master the main skills needed, he says. The average age of line technicians at Duke Energy is 50 to 55.