How to Prepare Your Warehouse for Changing Fulfillment Roles
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Future of Jobs report, machines will eliminate 75 million jobs by 2022. However, robotics will also lead to 133 million new jobs, many of which will require new skills. The biggest question now: how will today’s employees adapt to tomorrow’s technologies?
Unfortunately for warehouses and fulfillment centers in particular, there’s not much time to answer. Consumer demand continues its shift toward e-commerce, with convenience playing a key role in brick-and-mortar’s woes. Humans alone won’t be able to deliver the level of efficiency needed to maintain a superior customer experience, forcing a greater reliance on "Industry 4.0" technologies such as Internet of Things-enabled devices and robotics.
If your retail operations demand better fulfillment processes, you should start by seeking a buy-in from your warehouse team as soon as possible. By fostering positive attitudes toward tomorrow’s technology and offering professional development opportunities for those whose jobs are evolving, you can transform your fulfillment operations without leaving your employees behind.
Change the Attitude Toward Industry 4.0
As new technologies bring about rapid change in the warehouse, it’s understandable that your employees may be skeptical of Industry 4.0’s benefits in their roles. That’s why warehouse leadership must be transparent while helping employees adjust to digital transformation.
Start the conversation with your team by emphasizing how new technology will ease rote tasks. Best-of-breed warehouse management systems (WMS) are a good example. A WMS taps into the data collected from each of your processes and gives workers deeper visibility into their pain points. As IoT technology develops, connected devices throughout the warehouse could improve existing WMS offerings. A WMS streamlines operations and frees up employees to accomplish tasks that demand attention to detail.
Retailers are also adopting technology that take rote processes out of human hands. Although robots aren’t yet advanced enough to manage the demands of packing or shipping, they can lend a hand during picking. In fact, some companies are already implementing robots that zip through warehouse aisles collecting items. You’ll save employees repetitive stress on their bodies and increase productivity.
For a successful transition to newer warehouse technologies, you need to express their benefits in a meaningful way. Collecting employee feedback around pain points can help you develop your message. Offer time during an information session to answer questions and address specific concerns. Spend a few days on the warehouse floor gathering feedback from employees, specifically around the processes causing the most hassle, and make sure you demonstrate how new technology can alleviate these burdens when it comes time to select Industry 4.0 solutions.
Make Education and Training Accessible
Companies are investing in education to retrain employees in preparation for new technologies. However, the ones who need it the most aren’t getting exposure. According to the World Economic Forum’s report, only about 30 percent of employees in the roles most likely to be affected by digital transformation have received professional training in the past year. They’re also three times less likely than those in more stable roles to have participated in any on-the-job training or distance learning.
Take a step to invest in your employees’ futures. You’ll see the benefits through increased employee satisfaction and performance. As you implement new technology, offer several company training sessions, at easily accessible times, and have senior staff on hand to address any concerns.
Also consider providing full or partial scholarships for seminars or trade programs to help re-skill employees; not only will your employees gain new skills, but the knowledge they bring back to the warehouse will reduce the gap between solution implementation and achieving productivity.
Find the Opportunities
There’s no question that pressure from consumers to ship orders faster, combined with a surge in new technology, will forever change “business as usual” in the warehouse. Technology will make picking, packing and shipping easier, and while it may close some doors, it will open many more. Using digital transformation as an opportunity to help your employees grow their skills and tackle new roles will pay dividends for both your company culture and your efficiency. Don’t let fear of tomorrow take hold — help your team embrace it.
Don White is vice president of enterprise solutions at Snapfulfil, a cloud warehouse management system.