Employers have created an average of 550,000 new jobs each month in 2021, and the unemployment rate is approaching pre-pandemic levels. But ask any employer and they’ll tell you about the difficulties they are having in hiring workers right now. The US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 11 million job openings at the end of October.
For distributors, attracting and retaining warehouse workers to better manage labor shortages — and to do so profitably — remains one of the biggest challenges. We’ve all read the headlines: Nearly 17 million Americans quit their jobs between July and October. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, more than four million baby boomers retired between the start of the pandemic and the end of June 2021.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported more than 600,000 job openings in the transportation and warehousing sector in October 2021, more than double the number of vacancies reported in October 2020 (278,000). To make matters worse, the Washington Post published a scathing account of the labor shortages facing warehouses, calling them “jobs few workers want.” Ouch.
What’s a distributor to do? I think the profession needs a makeover, but it starts with distributors rethinking how they do business in the warehouse. These five ideas for making warehouse jobs more attractive provide a starting point:
1. It starts with your labor supply:
If the employment numbers above haven’t had you sitting in your chair, let me repeat: 17 million Americans left their jobs in just four months, and there are currently more than 600,000 job offers in the warehousing and transport sector. These numbers are real and everyone is feeling the pain; employers and employees who remain to take over from colleagues who have resigned. While attracting talent is essential, retaining current employees is of equal or even greater importance, as it costs far less to retain a quality person than to find, hire and train. a new person. And why wouldn’t you want to attract the best employees and keep your top performers? Hiring the best workers is not out of the question, especially when using technology as a safety net. Investing in the right technology, like a state-of-the-art warehouse management system, can help increase employee productivity and efficiency, which should allow you to pay these workers a premium over your competition. (More on that in a moment.)
2. Safety first:
There are, of course, legal worker safety requirements established by the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). But why not go further than what is required by law? Your warehouse workers deserve nothing less. For example, air conditioning remains a problem in far too many warehouses. In areas where temperature extremes and dust are particularly prevalent, it’s even more important to keep your employees’ safety and comfort in mind by maintaining a well-ventilated (or heated) warehouse. Why do retailers let their warehouses get unbearably hot in the summer and cold in the winter, while office temperatures remain perfectly livable all year round? Although this is just one example, distributors should go beyond the bare minimum to show employees that their health, well-being and safety matter more than the bottom line.
3. It is time for material handling to adapt to the times:
Another consideration for distributors: Minimize the physical load on your employees by taking inventory of the material handling tools they use in the warehouse. Then assess which of those need to be replaced with technologies that can handle the (literal) heavy work. Shopping carts, which I still see used in many warehouses today, are cumbersome and require choosing single or multiple orders that then have to be sorted later. Use a split picking cart instead. Or, if warranted, consider a goods-to-person robot. Additionally, task rotation can also make work more interesting and benefit the business by reducing knowledge silos in the warehouse.
4. The importance of good warehouse keeping:
Take a good look around your space. Is it a place of pride? Would you be comfortable inviting your family or friends? The appearance of the warehouse says a lot about the value you place on it and the employees who work there. For employees exposed to neglected warehouses, it may begin to feel like management has not considered, let alone prioritized, the level of well-being they feel in their daily work environment. A messy warehouse often has a hidden cost, as it almost always affects productivity and inventory control. Proper storage is important for employee safety and builds trust within your team. It shows that there are standards and pride in operations, which I think we would all agree makes us feel better about coming to work every day.
5. Everything (always) revolves around the Benjamins:
Employees have the upper hand right now, and they know it. They have the power to choose where they work, and they’re not afraid to make noise, as we’ve seen with the number of recent attempts to unionize workers at Amazon warehouses in the States. United States, Canada and abroad. Of course, things like better pay, improved benefits, more paid time off, longer and more frequent breaks, and access to training and education can all help differentiate your organization from its competitors; but is it enough today? A question I will ask that few people consider: is this a fun place to work? JLL’s recent research on “How Warehouse Design Puts Employees First” shows how industrial and logistics facilities introduce amenities that have become commonplace in office buildings to attract and retain talent. JLL’s report notes that apparel company ASOS has a million-square-foot distribution center in Georgia that includes “two basketball courts, a soccer field, a gym, a pizzeria and a grill station. , and even a pop-up nail bar.” I expect this trend to continue, so I would start thinking about the kinds of creative health and wellness benefits that can be brought into your establishment.
By taking these steps, even starting with just one or two, your company will experience higher retention rates in the warehouse, not to mention a significant positive impact on your company’s bottom line. With no end to the labor shortage in sight, I’d put this at the top of my to-do list for 2022.
Eric Allais is President and CEO of PathGuide Technologies.