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Japan's Answer to Aging Workforce

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Japan may have a solution to the aging workforce – and the answer may lie in making fast food jobs more accessible for the elderly.

Several Japanese chains have recently introduced measures that make it possible for workers over the age of 60 to easily adapt to the demands of their roles.

Labour crunch

The aging population in Japan, as people live longer and less children are born, means that the workforce is steadily reaching an older average age. In addition, some elderly members of society are having to rely on income to support themselves – rather than passing the baton on to younger members of the family, as has been tradition in the past.

The solution? Make jobs easier, starting with the bottom of the food chain – literally.

Mos Food Services runs the Mos Burger chain, and they have recently made changes to their registers which are solely aimed at older employees. They have changed the names of their products to abbreviations, allowing them to use larger characters on each of the order buttons, so that those with poor eyesight find it easier to read them. They have also reduced the display of incoming orders from ten on the screen at once to just four, so that the characters can be enlarged here as well.

A 77-year-old woman working at a Mos Burger in Tokyo was eager to try out the new software. She said that she no longer struggles to read the touchscreen on the register, meaning that it’s easier and quicker for her to take customer orders.

Mos Food has around 200 burger outlets in Japan, and over the last five years, the number of their employees in food jobs over the age of 60 has doubled to 3.3%.

Exploratory ideas

Mos Burger is not the only chain which is tackling the aging workforce problem through easy solutions. Ten Corp is a subsidiary of Royal Holdings, which operates a chain of tempura and rice eateries called Tenya. They are taking into account the fact that some of their employees struggle with memory issues as they get older, and have made it so that workers no longer have to memorise recipes to create their dishes.

Their outlet in Tokyo has started providing illustrations for quick reference, showing chefs what they need to do in order to produce each bowl of tendon – rice topped with tempura. They can look at the picture, see which ingredients they need to deep fry, and how many they need to make. This makes chef jobs accessible to seniors well past the age at which they would be able to remember a full menu with hundreds of dishes.

And, at Seven-Eleven Japan, another tactic has been coming into play. They noticed that employees were having trouble with their backs or knees due to the fact that they had to stoop to grab plastic shopping bags from directly below the checkout counter. They have now changed the location of the bags so that older employees no longer have to bend in order to reach them. This is sure to be a great help given that each store in Japan receives more than 1,000 customers on the average shopping day.

They have even made the bags easier to open. They estimate that they have now saved an hour’s worth of work from each employee’s day with these simple measures.

Statistics show that there are now 3.16 million people aged 65 or over still in the workforce in Japan in 2017. A decade before, that figure was only 1.41 million – showing an increase of more than double. As other countries around the world face similar problems, it may be a chance to take a leaf from Japan’s book.