The ongoing peaks in e-commerce sales have driven warehouse labor shortages levels to reach all-time highs, and companies are doing their best to keep up with demand. There are a variety of reasons people are opting to stay out of the labor force, like pandemic-related health concerns, a lack of affordable childcare, and more generous unemployment benefits. So, what can warehouses do to attract more employees given this labor shortage? We’ll go over everything including improving benefits and implementing autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) to gain a better understanding of what can be done.
One way to attract more employees is through more enticing benefits, like higher pay and paid vacation leave. According to the BLS, in June of this year, the preliminary average hourly rate in the industry was $22.47, up from $21.99 in March. The pressure for improved wages is so high, even Amazon moved up its annual wage increase from October to May.
In addition to improved wages, other companies are offering flexibility in scheduling, allowing paid time off to be taken in smaller increments, like half days. Others are focusing on improving conditions for current employees to inspire loyalty while maximizing their productivity, like implementing Labor Management Systems (LMS).
Labor Management Systems (LMS)
According to a Reuters Events and Blue Yonder survey, 62% of supply chain professionals are deploying LMS in their warehouses, to help keep employees motivated and focused on achieving their goals. There are a variety of different LMS options out there that can help dictate targets for picks per hour, receiving per hour, and other metrics, helping employees stay on task while feeling less overwhelmed.
According to Dwight Klappich, research vice president for Gartner, LMS can aid companies with assessing labor availability issues, helping companies make the right employee allocation decision during different seasons, across multiple warehouses. The right LMS can help a warehouse with workforce management without the need to spend one’s entire budget.
Some companies out there are creating applications specific to the warehouse environment, focused on making operational performances as efficient and effective as possible. By incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) along with other capabilities, these warehouse apps are able to monitor the rate of work, number of orders picked, and other KPIs to help guide decisions regarding the number of employees needed in specific areas. Some of these apps are so sophisticated, they’re able to make labor shift suggestions, while helping companies respond in real-time to any operational requirements that may arise.
With more and more jobs becoming available in warehouses and fewer and fewer applicants, it’s not surprising to see that automation is becoming a popular choice, especially robotics. Robotics (such as AMRs) are becoming increasingly more capable of performing tasks usually done by humans, so despite being a pricey investment, we expect them to continue to grow in popularity as their sophistication grows.
Robotics can be used for a variety of functions, like picking (to reduce all or some of the walking/traveling that drives down productivity), physical pick and place (to reduce touches), packing, and transport of product between staging areas for put away or replenishment of inventory. So, what options are there for robotics?
- Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) — Automate the inventory process by retrieving goods for shipment/use and returning items to their proper storage locations.
- Goods-to-Person technology (G2P) — Similar to AS/RS, G2P technology offers goods-to-person picking robots that deliver items to picking stations, where staff are stationed to fill orders as items arrive.
- Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) & Automated Guided Carts (AGCs) — One example is a self-driving forklift that transports inventory from one location to another within the warehouse. They rely on tracks or magnetic strips located in set travel paths, which are sometimes paired with sensors/cameras to avoid obstacles. Note that AGCs carry smaller loads as compared to AGVs.
- Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) — Similar to AGVs and AGCs because they transport inventory and materials throughout a warehouse autonomously. Unlike AGCs and AGVs, AMRs rely on maps and sensors to travel flexible routes by reading and understanding the environment.
- Articulated Robotic Arms — Robotic limbs with multiple joints and articulated robotic arms move and lift items. Typically used for receiving, such as moving items from pallets to racks or for picking, packing, and shipping.
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicles — Commonly known as drones, when equipped with RFID technology, they can provide real-time inventory visibility within the warehouse.
It’s important to note, however, that though robotics/AMRs are able to take on many tasks, they cannot replace your workforce. That’s why all solutions mentioned here are worth considering. One warehouse may benefit from an AMR, another may end up suffering with one in their midst, and some warehouses may benefit from a combination of these aforementioned solutions.
If you’re looking for guidance on how you can transform your supply chain, then you’ve come to the right place. Your operation is unique, which means a solution that works for one company may not be the right one for you, but we can help determine what you need to thrive. Give us a shout, and let’s put our proprietary 3D methodology to work for you!