As we forecast demand for warehouse space in 2021, staffing needs to take center stage.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), despite employment regaining momentum in June ,2020, the number in transportation and warehousing is still significantly lower than the pre-pandemic results we saw in February. That said, economic recovery is still underway, and the warehousing industry is likely to see additional job growth in the coming months as companies aim to restore normal operations.
In addition to seasoned warehouse workers on the market, there’s a new pool from which to recruit. The pandemic has leveled many industries, leaving a large number of employees displaced. Companies in warehousing and logistics now have an opportunity to provide new roles for those workers, while simultaneously attracting talent that was difficult to find in the previously tight labor market.
While it may be easier to attract the right talent today than it was pre-COVID-19, due to business ramping back up and more workers to choose from, warehouses are still faced with the challenge of retaining top talent. It’s important to note that workers don’t just get older, they get younger too. As you start staffing, don’t forget to look at new recruits and make sure you’re catering to the new generation of warehouse workers. What matters to these potential employees? In a post-COVID-19 world, it’s safety first — and that doesn’t just mean access to hand sanitizer.
Health and Safety
Warehouse teams are now frontline workers during the COVID-19 era and are put at risk every day. It’s important to both recognize this fact and address it with protections both on the warehouse floor and in H.R. In 2021, warehouse job seekers will be looking for exceptional healthcare packages, adequate sick leave and job security in case of illness while working in crowded, high-demand environments.
On the floor, it’s critical to provide tools that are ergonomically safe for the worker. Older models like heavy radio-frequency guns create arm strain and put workers out of commission unnecessarily. Opting for newer, lighter wearable technology can relieve ergonomic roadblocks of the past. Additionally, make sure you’re enforcing standard break times. With the increased throughput of deliveries and surge in e-commerce and online orders, workers will appreciate time to recover and recharge from intensive shifts.
Innovative and Intuitive Technology
As a younger, Gen Z workforce joins your team, understand that you’ll get the best performance out of your employees if you can match their technology skillset. Heavy tools won’t just physically slow down your emerging workforce; their outdated technology won’t align with the software that younger folks are accustomed to using every day. In fact, 51% of employers cite outdated technology as a barrier to operational success.
A younger workforce is ushering new technology into warehouses. The industry is in a massive shift away from legacy Windows CE systems, toward modern enterprise resource planning (ERP) and warehouse management systems (WMS) with wearable technology and automation. Warehouses that offer new technologies that enable the workforce to improve productivity, while also making their lives easier, will win the long game. This new generation of supply-chain workers gravitates toward familiar technology; think about that computer in their pockets that doubles as a phone. There’s a delicate balance between what’s new and what’s too complicated for teams to adjust to, and these young recruits will be very quick to throw out systems that are clunky and hard to learn.
When end users of technology are crippled by the interface, it halts progress and hurts growth and revenue. Your incoming workforce is accustomed to touchscreen smartphones, tablets and interfaces, not the Windows CE U.I. and hard-coded buttons of the 1990s. As more Gen Z workers enter the warehouse workforce, the ability to onboard them quickly becomes vital, and familiar technology that's Android- or touchscreen-based most quickly enables warehouse workers to reach peak productivity.
Upward Mobility and Growth
Warehouse workers are the heartbeat of any commerce company but, unfortunately, they’re not always presented as such. It’s important to go above and beyond to make them feel like they’re just as important as other departments. An employee on your warehouse floor should feel equally valued and recognized as the roles in finance or marketing.
Shout-outs and company-wide praise go a long way. Consider connecting digestible metrics, like total shipments per week, and calling them out in weekly all-hands meetings or written communication. It helps to put the workload in context for the rest of the company, and gives often undervalued team members a chance to shine.
Remember that many warehouse workers yearn for access to training and skill-refinement programs. A well-defined career path and tangible opportunities for leadership within the organization are big reasons for young employees at the start of their career to stay with a company long term, creating a better way to invest in your people.
Ultimately, attracting and retaining talent in 2021 is about reevaluating your employee benefits, safety protocols, technology performance and pathways for promotion. Are you doing everything you can to ensure you’re cultivating an attractive and sustainable warehouse environment for a younger generation? If not, there’s no better time to start than a new year.
Gabe Grifoni is founder and CEO of Rufus Labs.
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