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How to combat a tight labor market

Shipping volumes are growing, and distribution is becoming more complex – yet the labor market is tighter than it’s ever been. If you have warehouses – you have labor challenges. Noelle Abarelli, the host of the Tech Truths podcast, spoke with Brian Carlson, Cornerstone Edge Principal, about what he’s seeing in the market and how he is helping his clients navigate murky waters. Below is a summary of the conversation, or if you prefer, listen to it here

Who is Brian Carlson?

Brian has been in the supply chain industry for over 30 years, with in-depth experience implementing Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), evaluating operations, and implementing and supporting labor management products. He’s gained unparalleled insight into the labor market and how warehouse operations have challenges from a personnel and technology standpoint, specifically when it comes to hiring.

The labor market is tough right now, with some reporting 300% turnover. Are things as bad as they sound?

According to Brian, high-volume retail areas, like Atlanta or Indianapolis, are having a hard time specifically when it comes to wages. If all an employee needs to do to get a better wage is get the same job at a competing warehouse across the street, there’s nothing to stop them. So in areas like that, turnover can be unbelievably high. 

For more rural areas, turnover may not be as high, but finding labor to work in that area becomes the issue. It’s less about retaining and more about locating talent, to begin with. So the industry is plagued with either excessively high turnover or difficulty in filling positions. 

What should companies be doing to keep their warehouses thriving in this market?

Carlson suggests that operations look to implementing technologies to help their workforce, like implementing a WMS. Automation and other technologies can be implemented so that low-skill labor can be assigned to a machine, and employees can focus on high-skill tasks they can be proud of. 

Another successful strategy involves the use of technology to gamify the worker’s day-to-day. Different solutions can offer gamification that encourages friendly competition between employees. These competitions can be linked to different tasks that can be used to reward punctuality, speedy completion of a job, or anything! This not only works to increase productivity but also improves employee morale, which is always a plus.

The best part is that technology like that empowers companies to provide their employees with instant feedback, which appears to be a successful tactic when working with younger generations. As the age of employees in the warehouse continues to change, so must the strategies employed to keep workers engaged. 

Investment in any kind of technology sounds expensive, what should companies be doing to evaluate what’s right for them?

Brian is all about looking at the big picture to see what will work for a particular operation. That’s why he recommends taking a step back and putting together a roadmap, even if only for the next 10 years, to truly assess what the operation needs versus what may be a nice-to-have. This will help leadership evaluate what the company needs to reach its goals without risking the bottom line. More importantly, a roadmap will allow you to see what technology you require and in what order it needs to be implemented, in many cases, a phased approach can work, which means the technology can be implemented as needed, over the years, without breaking the bank. He suggests the crawl, walk, and run approach, that way you’re never taking on too much, but always working toward improvement.

The main takeaway? When it comes to labor challenges, you are not alone and you are not at a loss. In fact, small tweaks can lead to big improvements, and quickly. If you’re looking for ways to address the labor market, improve productivity, and foster supply chain resiliency, we can help! Whether you need a supply chain evaluation, help selecting a 3PL, or assistance with workforce optimization, we’ve got your back. Reach out today to see if we’re a fit. 


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