80% of warehouse associates say positive workplace changes are happening

Zebra Technologies recently conducted a new global survey Storage vision study to explore the trends and sentiments driving operational decisions and warehouse spending. The published results provide encouraging news: warehouse operators are making significant investments to better meet the needs of customers and workers, and to facilitate the filling of vacant positions.

Market pressures become the catalyst for positive change

Nearly nine in ten warehouse operators agree they need to implement new technologies to compete in the on-demand economy, with 80% confirming that the pandemic has prompted them to scale and modernize faster. They focus and spend the most on technologies that support workforce augmentation and workflow automation. For example, the use of handheld devices, mobile printers, and rugged tablets will increase over the next few years, along with mobile sizing software that automates package and carton measurements. Additionally, 27% of warehouse operators have already deployed some form of autonomous mobile robots (AMR). Within five years, this number should reach 90%.

“We are seeing positive change in the supply chain and, in particular, in warehouses,” said Mark Wheeler, director of supply chain solutions at Zebra Technologies. “Most decision makers believe that investing in automation far outweighs the risk of doing nothing, and they are increasingly comfortable integrating all sorts of new technologies into their current operations and infrastructure. .”

Warehouse associates are also increasingly comfortable with their employers’ use of advanced technologies. Less than half (45%) say their employers have raised wages or offered bonuses despite labor constraints, but most (80%) feel positively affected by the situation. Employers are improving working conditions in other ways, such as giving them more technology to use at work and leveraging technology to create more flexible shifts. In fact, an overwhelming 92% of warehouse associates agree on some level that advances in technology will make the warehouse environment more attractive to workers, even in times like these when supply chains are tight, demand is increasing and there is increasing pressure to meet tighter deadlines. .

Top Warehouse Challenges

Decision makers are finding it harder to ship customer orders on time than they did three years ago, and they’re struggling to maintain inventory accuracy and visibility. They also admit they are expected to deliver orders faster than ever to keep pace with the on-demand economy, with rising transportation costs weighing on more than 40% of warehouse operators spanning manufacturing, transportation , wholesale distribution, logistics and retail. This is perhaps unsurprising considering that respondents report that their shipping volumes have increased by more than 20% on average over the past two years.

Like associates, however, warehouse operators see these challenges as catalysts for change and growth. By 2025, more than eight in ten plan to increase the number of storage units (SKUs) they carry and the volume of items shipped. They also plan to expand returns management operations, offer more value-added services, and increase their physical footprint, with the number and size of warehouses increasing.

While 61% of warehouse operators also want to increase their workforce over the next year in order to right-size their workforce, they admit that finding and training workers in a timely manner remains a major challenge. As a result, more than eight in 10 decision makers agree that they will need to rely more on automation in the future.

Balancing the Scales: Increasing Labor with Automation

While most warehouse operators will deploy AMRs for person-to-goods (P2G) picking, material movements, and other automated inventory movements, others will invest in software that automates analysis and decision making. They want to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of workers and reduce labor costs.

“As the pace of operations quickens and workflows become more complex, warehouse operators have found that the average time it takes to get workers to full productivity is 4.7 weeks,” said James Lawton, vice president and general manager of robotic automation at Zebra Technologies. “Currently, decision makers believe that the most important workforce initiative is to reduce unnecessary tasks so associates can focus on more customer-centric work. If warehouse operators automate with AMR and workflow optimization software, it will be easier to scale operations and meet service level agreements as customer demands and demand increase. labor availability fluctuates.

Job satisfaction and worker retention are by-products of automation

As warehouse operators plan to increase automation, some might say jobs will be lost. Still, survey respondents believe automation can help keep more people in their jobs and fill vacancies. Nearly eight in 10 warehouse workers say walking fewer miles a day would make their jobs more enjoyable, even if they had to pick up or handle more items, and many strongly believe that AMRs could make warehouse jobs less stressful.

Policymakers should take note, as only 41% strongly agree that implementing warehouse technologies such as robotics and devices can help attract and retain workers, even though most associates:

  • People who work alongside AMRs today confirm that they have helped increase productivity and reduce walk/travel time (80%), reduce errors (73%) and enable advancement to new roles or opportunities (65%).
  • Say they are more likely to work for an employer that provides them with modern devices to use for tasks compared to an employer that provides older devices or none (83%).

“Automation is the great equalizer, especially when labor is limited or during unexpected peak periods or seasonal peaks where it can be difficult to scale labor quickly,” said Wheeler. “What’s interesting is that associates are more confident than warehouse operators right now.”

Five-year technology outlook for warehouse operations

Eighty-five percent of decision makers say they have mobility in place so frontline workers can capture every inventory move they make, and most believe they optimize their device usage by depending on the task, safety and ergonomics. However, warehouse associates (84%) and decision makers (79%) are concerned about not achieving their business goals unless more technology investments are made to improve operations, with associates in transportation (92 %) and logistics (88%) sectors which most strongly feel this need. As a result, more than six in 10 decision makers say they will invest in technologies that increase inventory and asset visibility in their warehouses and overall visibility in supply chains over the next five years.

Nine in ten expect their use of sensor-based technologies such as radio frequency identification (RFID), computer vision, stationary industrial scanning and machine vision systems to become more widespread over the past five coming years. As companies invest in advanced technologies that enable greater visibility, real-time guidance, and data-driven performance, they focus on increasing team productivity and better asset utilization, equipment and people, which equates to better worker welfare and overall market competitiveness. However, it will become essential for warehouse operators to think more about how they implement and integrate technologies as they increasingly digitize workflows and scale systems. Next to a phased roadmap will be the key to a stable and lasting maturity.

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