Changes in the work force are driving companies to automate as much as possible and, where automation isn't feasible, to implement labor management best practices using standards and incentives, says Mike Romano, president of Associated Integrated Supply Chain Solutions.
“We have a very complex labor force today,” says Romano. “The different generations in the workforce do not share the same attitudes, so companies are trying to understand what drives each generation in terms of motivation. At the same time, we have a lot of Baby Boomers who are entering retirement age, who have encouraged the generations following them to get college degrees and go after white collar jobs. This means there are fewer workers to do blue collar jobs, such as those in a warehouse.”
These factors combined are forcing companies to create efficiencies through either automation or more sophisticated labor management. “Companies are installing work standards and creating incentives around those standards for employees to reward good performance,” says Romano.
Implementation of such work standards requires a cultural change at most companies and management has to be careful not to have it seem like “big brother” watching, he says. “You need to involve the labor pool in the development of work standards and help them understand the reasons for them,” he says. “If you get the workers to buy in, they will embrace the standards and try to improve on them as they go forward, which is the ultimate aim.”
In terms of automation, because of the shortage of workers, Romano thinks driverless forklifts will gain in use and become “pretty mainstream in the next five years. He notes that Associated recently acquired Peach State Technologies, “which will give us a foundation to enter that market, which is a completely different arena from selling traditional forklifts.”