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Vita Needle factory embraces age-friendly policies

man with goggles - Glenn Cotter works at Vita needle factory, a company primarily composed of senior citizens

Glenn Cotter examines a piece of fabricated steel at the Needham, Mass., stainless steel tubing and fabrication company — family operated since 1932. — Photo by: Sandy Hooper/Aurora Select

En español | At a time when employers are often reluctant to hire older job applicants, one company not only embraces its mature workforce, but is becoming almost famous for it. The average age of employees of the Vita Needle factory in Needham, Mass., is 74. Of the 47 employees who work manufacturing medical needles, tubing and fabricated parts, just two are in their early 20s. They're known as "the kids."

See also: Recruiting older workers.

Vita's ultra-age-friendly policy is hardly hurting business; this year, the company is on track to bring in $11 million in gross sales. Vita President Fred Hartman, whose great-grandfather started the business in 1932 (and retired at age 97), says, "Young workers in their 50s and 60s are our burgeoning farm team! We don't have old, we have experienced."

Experience counts

Visitors seem surprised that Vita is able to be so productive and successful with an older workforce, says Frederick Hartman, 28, Vita's director of marketing and engineering, son of the president, and the fifth generation in his family to join the company.

"But I'm not at all," he says. "The older workers are loyal; many have worked here 10 to 15 years and feel a sense of community. They also feel pride that their finished product is often used in medical applications that can save someone's life or make it better."

Frederick Hartman acknowledges that some of the older ones work at a slower pace, but claims it doesn't matter. "This is not a crack-the-whip company where you're expected to turn out x number of parts per hour," he says. "Quality of work compensates for slower speed. Attention to detail is also better. Damage to the company's reputation is hard to repair."

One recent morning, Rosa Finnegan, 99, who has worked at Vita since the tender age of 84, is checking by hand to make sure there are no burrs in the needles that are put into syringes. Nearby are two other workers in their 90s, five in their 80s, and almost a dozen in their 70s who work part-time.

Next: Employees like learning different skills. >>

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