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Fulfilling the warehouse staff shortage with automation

Distribution distribution center labor Retail trends

In mid-2017, Amazon announced its plans to fill 50,000 jobs at ten different warehouses around the country.

The event dubbed Amazon Jobs Day consisted of job fairs where candidates could tour fulfillment centers, watch workers in action, and “see the magic behind the Amazon smile.” Prospective employees who had successful interviews would be offered full- and part-time jobs on the spot.

But, as it turns out, only 20,000 people showed up to learn more about the opportunities. While one may look at that number and be fairly impressed, it was a total bust for the online retail giant. But why does this matter? Because this is a really good indication that people aren’t as interested in taking labor intensive jobs in fulfillment centers as they once were – even when those jobs offer medical benefits and tuition reimbursement from the first day of employment for full-time workers and pay roughly $14 an hour (in a time when $7.25 per hour is the Federal minimum wage in the United States).

Amazon is not the only company struggling to find workers for their warehouses. Facilities all over the globe are experiencing an increased demand for warehouse labor due to the higher number of workers required per square foot. For instance, a non-fulfillment operations warehouse only needs one worker per 1,500 to 3,000 feet, whereas e-commerce fulfillment operations require one worker per 700 to 1,000 square feet.

Warehouses located in concentrated areas are also responsible for driving up competition, as a cluster of warehouses in limited areas tends to lead to companies competing for the same pool of jobseekers. And, on top of that, the hard physical labor demanded from workers is most certainly turning off some jobseekers from the start.

This unprecedented demand has led to wage increases and even better benefits to attract workers away from competitors. In fact, warehouse associates were among the top nine jobs with the fastest wage growth last year, with a 6.7 percent median wage increase according to a study by Glassdoor.

This is why companies all over the world are starting to turn to one common solution: automation. Through automation, companies can permanently fill the need of labor-intensive jobs in the warehouse while improving the workflow and ensuring accurate, timely deliveries – without undue pressure on workers. Warehouse automation offers just-in-time order picking, increases efficiency and handling, eliminates errors and ensures traceability as products move throughout the facility. Moreover, with the right solution, orders can be picked (without having to physically bend over and lift boxes) with 100-percent accuracy and at faster speeds which results in shorter lead times and maximized product shelf life. Further, warehouse automation allows for the integration of applications which can collect data on operations and produce detailed analyses.

At the end of the day, warehouse automation solves the challenges of staff shortages. Further, it allows facilities to repurpose their existing staff, from physically challenging positions to more value-added roles in the company.

Author Derek Rickard

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