A warehouse’s most valuable asset is the workforce inside it, so a shortage of available labor can spell disaster even for the most efficiently run and profitable business. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated a labor shortage in the warehousing industry that became a serious problem by the first quarter of 2020.
If you want your business to be as successful as possible, preventing and managing warehouse labor shortages should be one of your top priorities. Understanding what causes these shortages and what actions you could take to address them is key to ensuring your warehouse runs smoothly enough to keep profit margins and employee morale high.
Perhaps the single biggest driver of the warehouse labor shortage is simply the fact that there is more labor to be done. Every year, an ever-increasing percentage of retail sales occur entirely online, shifting the responsibility of picking merchandise and transporting it home from the individual consumer to the company that sells that merchandise.
For someone to click a button on their computer screen and have a product show up on their doorstep in as little as 24 hours, a human being has to process their order, pick and package the correct time, and transport it to the right address on a very tight schedule. This puts a significant strain on the supply chain industry and its workforce.
Combined with an aging and retiring workforce, there is also a lack of experienced warehouse workers and a surplus of duties that available workers have to perform. Without more help, warehouse employees end up working long and physically exhausting shifts, resulting in burnout and contributing even more to the overarching labor shortage.
Many people argue that the complete automation of product picking, packing, and shipping is the only way forward for the warehousing industry. The unfortunate truth, though, is that purely autonomous machine operations are still several decades away, and putting too much stock in automation in the short term exacerbates problems with human labor without providing much long-term benefit.
In order to prevent and manage warehouse labor shortages, there are two things warehouse managers should focus on: minimizing the amount of labor that needs to be physically performed in their facility without sacrificing product or service quality, and ensuring that the existing workforce is not tempted to leave for other opportunities. The automation of warehouse processes can be a huge help with the former, so long as the focus is on thorough inventory management plans and machinery like conveyors and scanners that make human labor easier rather than replacing humans altogether.
As for the latter, the simplest solution is often the best one: treat your employees as the valuable assets of your business that they are. Training workers to be flexible on the job so they can fulfill different roles as needed, adjusting shift schedules to fit their needs, and instituting performance incentives and competitive compensation structures can set your business apart from competitors and engender loyalty from workers who cannot be bought or sold.