Actively shaping a future of demographic change
The Federal Cabinet has adopted the Federal Government's "The New Future of Old Age" research agenda for demographic change, which was proposed by Federal Ministry of Education and Research. It is the first interdepartmental research concept on this topic. This Federal Government agenda focuses departmental research programmes on the challenges and opportunities of demographic change. The agenda aims to conduct research that will encourage the development of new solutions, products, and services to improve the quality of life and social participation of older people. Discovering the hidden treasures of an ageing society will benefit all generations.
Improved living conditions, peace, and social security systems have started a process of change in the age structure of the population in industrialized nations. This increase in the average age of the population is leading to changes in our everyday life and work. How is society dealing with these changes? How can we make use of the opportunities available and benefit from experience? Health research and the manufacturing and services industries are called upon to provide solutions for the areas of initial and continuing vocational training and for reshaping our cities. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding measures to tackle demographic change under various research programmes.
Visit the webpage of the Federal Government's research agenda for demographic change "The New Future of Old Age" for detailed information.
Further information and materials regarding the Federal Government's demographics strategy can be found at the Federal Ministry of the Interior.
Society and demographic change
The changes in the age structure of society have not been sudden or unexpected, and this process is being studied closely. Today's population pyramid is the result of a long-term demographic development which has been evident for many years.
The first consequences have been adjustments to the structure of our social security systems. The number of schools is currently being reduced to meet the drop in the number of children of school age. In ten years' time, when these children become adolescents, we will begin to experience a shortage of trainees and thus a shortage of skilled staff.
As with all long-term developments whose consequences will not be visible to the general public until 2020 or even 2050, there is a risk that the time needed to develop alternatives and rethink our policy could pass by unused.
5th German Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) Conference
Parlamentary State Secretary Thomas Rachel (right) with VDE Chief Executive Dr. Hans Heinz Zimmer (left), ©VDEMore than 800 experts from research, science, politics and industry discussed technical solutions for an ageing society at the Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) conference on 24 and 25 January 2012.
AAL refers to concepts, products and services that combine new technologies with the social environment in order to enhance the quality of life for people throughout their lives.
In 2012, the BMBF is supporting more than 20 new research projects dealing with assistance systems for the elderly. A focus is on mobility well into old age. The ACCESS project, for example, develops an electronic guidance and route planning system that enables senior citizens with reduced mobility to move in cities and buildings. Other projects will develop assistance systems for outpatient care in underdeveloped regions.
Demographic change is a focus of BMBF research funding. The "New Future of Old Age" research agenda for demographic change, which the Federal Cabinet adopted in November 2011, mentions six fields of action:
- Basic issues of an ageing society
- Using the expertise and experience of older people in business and society
- Growing old in good health
- Social participation: Remaining mobile and in touch
- Living safely and independently
- Better quality of life through good nursing care
For more information on the research agenda click here.
Health research is another major focus of the BMBF. It deals not only with measures to improve the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of types of disease which become more frequent as the population ages, but also concentrates on projects and developments aimed at maintaining independence and mobility.
We must also adapt our everyday lives to meet the challenges of Germany's changing age structure. Our ageing population is leading to changes in the demand for products and services, in continuing and further training, and in shaping our immediate living environment. What consequences will demographic change have for mobility and the way we live our daily lives, and thus for the structure of our towns? We must focus our attention on these questions today if we want to be able to react in the long term. The BMBF is studying all of these areas in various research programmes and is developing alternatives.
Lifelong learning also offers older people new opportunities to keep up with changes in everyday life. The older generation is an important and inspirational part of society, having extensive knowledge in many areas that other generations lack. The make-up of workforces in individual companies is shifting as the age structure of our population changes. Fewer young people are embarking on careers, and as such, the potential of older staff is becoming increasingly significant. It has become clear that we can maintain the employability of people up to pension age by providing continuous, lifelong training. This enables us to uphold the innovative strength and productivity of our society even in times of demographic change. Older personnel have better employment opportunities if their know-how and skills can be adapted to meet new vocational demands. A 55 year-old who participates in further training to ensure up-to-date knowledge has one great advantage over a 25 year-old: 30 years of professional experience. This combination of experience and up-to-date knowledge is a considerable advantage for both employee and employer.
The saying that you can't teach an old dog new tricks no longer applies in this day and age. Learning no longer stops when people finish school, training or university. Learning is an essential tool for acquiring education and thus for shaping one's individual opportunities, both in life and at work. The Federal Government adopted the Concept for Lifelong Learning on 23 April 2008 in order to improve the situation in this area. The concept links up with measures which have been implemented under the Federal Government's Qualification Initiative.
Our country's economic strength depends on how successful we are in adapting working conditions in the production and service industries to meet the challenges of demographic change - the rising average age of the working population and a decrease in the number of young people starting out on their careers. In the coming years, it will be vital for companies to find answers to a string of urgent questions:
- Should production be further automated to make up for the shortage of staff?
- How can work be organized in such as way as to keep the qualifications of staff members up to date - how can work and continuous training be better integrated?
- What consequences does the shift in emphasis from initial training to continuous training have for the field of education?
- What are the consequences for companies when fewer and fewer young people begin training and start on careers?
The BMBF, together with its social partners, is funding research to provide answers to these questions.
Making use of the Demography Initiative in Practice
In an initial phase, tools were developed under scientific supervision and in cooperation with industrial associations, social partners, and over 130 companies. The results were presented at a conference in Berlin on 28 June 2005. The second phase is now focusing on making these successful examples accessible to as wide a public as possible.
The portal http://www.demowerkzeuge.de/, which was established together with our social partners, offers all companies special new tools for dealing with changes resulting from an ageing workforce. These include:
- new instruments in the fields of staff planning and structural analysis which have been simplified in order to make them suitable for SMEs
- traditional instruments of staff utilization and deployment, such as a staff utilization matrix
- suggestions for staff structure and work design - for example the formation of mixed-age teams, the transfer of knowledge from experienced staff who are shortly to leave the company to their future successors, or the formation of tandems to ensure close cooperation over certain periods of time