Sun Technical Co., a small Japanese manufacturing company in Suruga Ward, Shizuoka Prefecture, has only five employees with an average age of 76. The firm sells a product called a vacuum lift, which picks up heavy objects using suction power. It has been sold to 1,500 companies, reports Japan News. At the factory, President Sadayuki Oishi, aged 84, gives instructions to 67-year-old Yoshiyuki Sakai, who was hired in October 2014.
The company is not known for speed - it can take two months to deliver an order - but it is reputed for precision in responding to individual product requirements: something larger companies find it more difficult to handle at scale.
Measures are in place to ensure the workers are not stretched beyond their physical abilities. For instance, they measure blood pressure daily at 3pm, and go home early if they do not feel well.
The population of Japan is ageing, and rapidly. The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research estimates that, by 2050, over 35% of the population will be over 65, compared to 26% today.
Further opportunities for older people to contribute to the workforce and earn a living could help to counter the burden of care. The conventional dependence ratio, the number of workers that must cover the dependent population of young and retired, currently compares the number of people in the 15-64 year old age group to all others. For Japan, a combination of fertility collapse and longer lives have pushed the ratio down to 1.8, reports Forbes, with a projected ratio of one worker per dependent after 2050. Were this to happen, the consequences for taxes, transfers and incentives could be enormous.
However, this ratio does not consider the possibility of people working later in life. Many workers, especially men, continue to work beyond their nominal retirement years. In Japan, almost one-third of men aged 65 and older are in the labour force.
Another suggested measure to help stabilise the population by boosting the number of births is to make it easier for mothers to work. This is the recommendation of Kathy Matsui, chief Japan equity strategist at Goldman Sachs in Tokyo. “Evidence shows that work-forces with a higher female participation rate also have higher birth rates,” she says.
As a last resort, the Japanese Government has not ruled out importing large numbers of foreign workers.
Image: Christoph Rupprecht / Flickr
Asiaone (7 January 2015). Elderly workforce changing society.
National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, Japan (2010). Selected Demographic Indicators for Japan
The Economist (25 March 2014) The incredible shrinking country
Forbes (14 June 2010) Japan's population problem