BERLIN -- Too slow, inflexible, forgetful, always off sick. Those are some attitudes about older workers that Mercedes-Benz is trying to dispel as Germany grapples with the challenges of an aging society.
The luxury brand owned by Daimler is waging a companywide campaign to combat those mistaken impressions. "We wanted a paradigm shift in attitudes," said Sylvia Huette-Ritterbusch, a Mercedes personnel expert whose job is to decide what skills the firm will need in future.
One initiative Daimler has developed is an exhibition to challenge stereotypes about aging. It has already been visited by 80,000 people, including 2,500 of its factory managers and has now been brought to Berlin and opened to the public.
Visitors are asked to choose between the "young" or "old" door to enter the exhibition. Many retired visitors, who obviously feel young at heart, come in through the "young" door.
Once inside, you can take tests to measure memory, balance, ability to work in a team, the tightness of your grip, how high you can jump and how easily you can relax.
It turns out that this correspondent, real age 45, has a biological age of 36, but 119 years of life experience.
The initiative has been championed by Mercedes production head Markus Schaefer, who says: "Many prejudices about aging are long out-of-date. Every age has potential... age diversity means diversity of experience, perspectives and new ideas."
The average age of Daimler's 136,000 employees in Germany is 44.7 years.
Rival automaker BMW expects workers aged over 50 to make up more than 35 percent of its work force by 2020, from 25 percent in 2014.
Germany faces a serious skills shortage as the post-war "baby boomer" generation retires. The working-age population is expected to shrink by some 2 million by 2030.
The shortage of workers is costing the economy up to 0.9 percentage points of output a year, the IW German Economic Institute said recently.
The German government has moved to discourage people from retiring early and the pension age is scheduled to rise gradually from 65 to 67 by 2030.
"Companies know it is not so easy attract young workers. They are realizing they can't do without some of the baby boomers and will try and hang onto them," said Andre Schleiter, a demographics expert at the Bertelsmann Foundation think tank.