There are a number of labor challenges that supply chain employers are facing as we enter this year’s peak season, including a national labor shortage, rising wages, high employee churn, inaccurate forecasting, and a widening skills gap.
Though these are year-round problems since the onset of the pandemic, they’re particularly exacerbated during peak season. Whereas previously, shippers could hire additional peak season employees in one fell swoop with one or two hiring events, they’re now having to hire on a rolling basis, which burdens them with continuous onboarding and training. That is if they can find the right skilled candidates to fill open positions at all.
This year, it will be critical for supply chain employers to find smart ways to maximize the productivity of their existing workforce. Managing labor during this year’s peak season will be all about proactiveness, flexibility, and creativity. Employers will have to focus on being accommodating to employee needs and schedules and engaging them with value-added work. Below are some strategies to get the most out of your workforce during this year’s peak season (and beyond).
Take a Flexible, Human-First Approach
In an era of remote work, people have come to crave (and even expect) flexibility. We’re starting to see people plan work around their personal life instead of the other way around. Luckily, businesses can use this flexibility to their advantage with some innovative problem solving when extra work is needed during peak season.
Data is key here. Employers need a strong human resources information system (HRIS) or similar technology that can gather and analyze data on employee schedule preferences, needs, skills, travel capabilities, completed trainings, etc. By building out a database of this information, employers can easily know who can only work nights, who is trained on what equipment, who wants to pick up as many shifts as possible, who needs to go pick up their children at 2 pm every day, and so on.
This tech could help you leverage capabilities that employees desire, like off-schedule or additional shifts. Shippers could cross-train employees and then when a shift needs to be swapped or filled, use their HR system to find all properly trained and available employees that could fill in. Or, consider this: many companies have clusters of sites within a general vicinity and could have workers pick up shifts in different locations as needed. Technology can help flesh out those logistics.
The possibilities go on and on, but all contribute to the common goal of rearranging your current workforce in a way that benefits all parties and drives efficiency and productivity. In doing this, employers need to be willing to step out of their comfort zone and accommodate for employee needs that they may not have before. When you need your employees most is when it’s crucial to make them feel heard and valued.
The technology exists to make this happen, but shippers need a backbone infrastructure in place before they can turn that technology on. That means having a cross-trained team, a strong understanding of your employees, and a thought-out plan with the customer on how scheduling will work within the set budget. Once armed with the right infrastructure, employers can leverage these new systems to skyrocket the efficiency and productivity of their current workforce.
Leverage Technology to Add More Value to Human Labor
Undoubtedly, robots and computers add a certain level of productivity to the supply chain, especially amid labor shortages. When you look to engage these technologies, however, you should do so from a perspective of value-added human labor that boosts overall productivity during peak and beyond.
There is a common misconception that the introduction of robots into the supply chain makes human labor obsolete. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There are tasks that humans can do that robots can’t, so why not allocate responsibilities in a way that strategically leverages both human and robot capabilities and maximizes the value of their labor?
In the warehouse, robots can do the time-consuming walking and traversing (The U.S. Census reports that the average warehouse wastes 265 million hours and $4.2 billion on unnecessary motion). In the office, computers can automate monotonous tasks. This frees up more time for people to perform value-added services to meet internal and external customer needs. This way, productivity can still be high even with a limited amount of human labor. Plus, greater efficiency can help cut down on overtime (which can skyrocket during peak season), cutting costs for employers and alleviating employee schedules.
To mitigate labor shortage issues, Kenco is already on the cutting edge of testing some newer technologies (like remotely operated forklifts and Locus Robotics) that complement human labor and drive productivity. There are countless other solutions that shippers can utilize, and now is the time to be proactive about finding the right fit.
Maximizing the value of your current workforce will be critical during what is sure to be another extremely high-volume peak season. Luckily, technology of all kinds exists to help you get creative in making that happen. While you surely need to be competitive in terms of compensation and benefits, it will also be important that you create a work environment that makes employees feel valued in their contributions. Though it may be a departure from traditional scheduling, training, and role assignment, these proactive initiatives can drive efficiency and productivity when you need it most.