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22.10.2020

Warehouse Technology Bridges the Age Gap to the Workforce

Adopting new technology can help meet the needs and interests of different generations of warehouse workers and ultimately improve their efficiency.

In many regions around the world, warehouse managers are finding it difficult to attract enough workers to effectively keep up with consumer demand. One key way for businesses to stand out to employees is by building efficient workflow processes that make them feel productive and satisfied. In particular, keeping abreast of technological advances plays a huge role in attracting new workers, as well as retaining existing employees.

So, what’s the best way for warehouse managers to find new Gen Z and Millennial employees while still supporting their current workforce? Rather than viewing the differences of a multigenerational workforce as a challenge, managers can use a flexible approach to warehouse technology to help their employees become more effective and efficient than ever before. 

Generational Differences in Warehouse Technology Adoption

While workers across the generational spectrum tend to have similar goals and aspirations for their careers, they have some differing opinions about how tech should be used on a day-to-day basis. Part of this has to do with how different generations prefer to connect and communicate. Older generations, for instance, often prefer phone calls, whereas younger people favor text messages.

So, in order to find and retain a motivated workforce, why not give them the ability to work in the way that’s most satisfying to them? Since a “one size fits all” solution is not effective for end users, savvy companies are introducing technologies based on the preferred communication methods of their employees. In this way, managers can take a multichannel approach in making new warehouse technology available to workers. 

Research shows that younger employees gravitate toward jobs that they find fulfilling, rather than the ones with the largest salaries. [1] That’s why finding Millennial and Gen Z workers requires engaging them in ways that make them feel comfortable, heard, and supported. For instance, Gen Z and Millennial workers typically prefer technology that engages them visually rather than verbally. Virtual and augmented reality (AR) technologies, such as holo-lens headsets that can overlay arrows on the floor to guide workers through the warehouse and highlight the shelves and items they need to pick, are therefore attractive solutions for them. These new technologies have also led to the emerging trend of gamification, which can make warehouse work more mentally stimulating and entertaining. Through gamification, businesses are even able to offer monetary incentives for increased productivity.

Warehouse management teams can also be strategic in the technologies they make available to older workforces. There’s a stereotype that older workers can be set in their ways — many Baby Boomers are accustomed to manual labor and prefer voice picking technology or radio-frequency (RF) technologies, for example. However, most warehouse technologies are intuitive and user friendly, which allows both younger and older employees to easily learn how to operate them. This saves workers valuable time and energy, which in turn can lead to better retention numbers and increased productivity. 

How Can Technology Improve Worker Retention?

Warehouse picking is physically demanding, but the increasing adoption of warehouse automation and robotics in the supply chain has led to more strenuous or dangerous tasks being delegated to autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). In a goods-to-person system, items are brought to workers for picking, instead of requiring them to walk several miles per day to transport heavy objects. This helps improve employee safety and alleviate concerns about the strains of warehouse work, especially for older workers. It also ties into creating a strong and supportive team environment, which goes a long way toward helping workers feel good about the contributions they make.

In many cases, resistance to new warehouse technology happens on the lower levels of a business, as workers may be afraid of losing their jobs to automation. Proper training and coaching that emphasizes the human role in working with automation can help increase the adoption rate and effectiveness of new technologies, but ultimately, letting employees use the tools that work best for them is key. 

Despite the many benefits of this flexible approach, the challenges associated with managing a multichannel supply chain can increase complexity. Vendor partnerships and integrations, for example, can become cumbersome. That is one of the reasons why 12 supply chain partners have come together as Körber. By integrating into a single brand with solutions covering the entire supply chain, Körber has created a simplified, accessible approach to optimizing labor with warehouse technology. 

The Future of Workforce Augmentation

As consumer demand continues to rise and the available labor force remains low, many managers are looking to modify how they use technology to optimize their operations. In the long-term, this likely means that most manual warehouse tasks can be done cost-effectively by robots and other automation, though it will be some time before many jobs are fully automated. Actually picking products has proved difficult for robots, for instance, and packaging products has also been hard to automate. 

Businesses therefore need to take stock of their options so that they can use technology to augment their workers for high-value-add tasks. Transitioning employees to roles that require intricate manual labor or critical thinking skills helps ensure that supply chain managers are getting the most from their workforce. This allows warehouses to increase efficiency as well as create a better environment for workers of all ages. In turn, as employee satisfaction rises, so does retention and productivity.

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