After attaining his M.Sc. in the early 1970s from the Faculty of Health and Sports Sciences of the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, Juhani Ilmarinen started his research career in the Department of Physiology, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH). From 1974 to 1978, he held a visiting research position at the Institut für Arbeitsphysiologie, University of Dortmund, Germany and defended his Ph.D. in health and sports sciences (work physiology) at the University of Cologne, Germany in 1978. After returning to FIOH, his work focused on the theme “ageing and work”, and his multidisciplinary team created the Work Ability concept and a method called the Work Ability Index (WAI) for ageing workers. In 1992, he was appointed Director of the Department of Physiology, FIOH, a position which he held until 2005, when he became Professor and Director of the Life Course and Work – Theme, aiming to create social innovations for a better and longer worklife for all generations. This position lasted until the end of 2008, when he retired.
Professor Ilmarinen acted as the Secretary of the Scientific Committee Ageing and Work of the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH) from 1989 to 2006. During his service, the Committee organized several workshops, symposia and conferences on ageing and work worldwide and also published several proceedings. As a result of the Committee’s activities, the topic “Promotion of the Work Ability of Ageing Workers and WAI” was implemented in 26 countries. Professor Ilmarinen was also the Chairman of the Technical Committee “Ageing” of the International Ergonomics Association (IEA) from 1997 to 2007.
Professor Ilmarinen has authored more than 500 publications on occupational health, work physiology, work ability and ageing. He has published 8 books, e.g. a handbook on age management called “Towards a Longer Work Life” in 2006.
In November 2008, the First National Prize for Innovative Practices in Employment and Social Policy was awarded to Professor Ilmarinen.
In 2009 he was appointed Visiting Professor of Occupational Wellbeing and Work Ability at the Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.
In 2010, Professor Ilmarinen accepted the invitation of the Gerontology Research Centre, University of Jyväskylä, Finland, to become Chairman of its Managing Board.