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West Coast and California Logistics Blog

Understanding Millennials and Other Warehouse Labor Challenges

Thu, Oct 17, 2019 @ 07:30 AM / by Todd Naramore

Warehouse labor is hard to come by. With national unemployment the lowest it’s been in 50 years, there are simply more jobs than there are people to fill those jobs. There is no easy remedy for attracting and retaining warehouse talent in this economy, but there are ways to adapt. Following are some important ways that your warehousing operation can navigate this ‘full employment’ economy.

Understand millennials

Broadly referring to people born between 1981 and 1996, “millennials” currently range between the ages of 23 and 38.  As such, they play a crucial role in the modern workforce – and the modern warehouse.

warehouse laborHowever, millennials have key differences from preceding generations in the way they perceive the workplace and their role within it.  

  • Millennials want to feel that their work – and the work of the companies they’re employed by – contributes to societal improvement. However, they are growing increasingly skeptical of the motives of businesses and business leaders.
  • Millennials place great value on experiences and generally want to choose the tasks that they perform.
  • Where previous generations emphasized job security and were happy to be cross trained to perform several roles, millennials may prefer to find a role that they enjoy and stick to that.
  • Millennials have a low tolerance for ambiguity.
  • Millennials value flexibility and like to set schedules that enable them to pursue other experiences outside of work.
  • The diversity (e.g., gender, ethnicity, age) of a company’s workforce is important to millennials.

To engage and empower millennials in the warehouse, companies would do well to take these differences into account.  Where possible, this can involve a greater degree of personalization – working with the employee to understand his or her desires regarding scheduling, roles performed and overall career path. 

The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019 offers further suggestions, including:

  • Open a dialogue with employees to hear their concerns and understand the issues that matter to them.
  • Ask employees how the company can help them attain their goals.
  • Provide training and tools that can lead to advancement, including those related to emerging technology in the industry.
  • Create a culture that embraces diversity and inclusion.

Find cultural fits first, then train on needed skills

In years past, the recruitment and hiring processes of many warehousing providers looked something like this:

  1. Post a job
  2. Identify a pool of about 5 applicants that may be a good fit
  3. Interview
  4. Make an offer to the most qualified applicant
  5. Hire and train

In a full employment economy, this script is no longer working. It may take a pool of 25-40 people to find one applicant with optimal skill sets for the job. And, even when that applicant is discovered, there’s no guarantee that he or she will accept your offer instead of someone else’s.

So, what then?

Many companies are answering this warehouse labor riddle with a new approach that prioritizes cultural fit when hiring. While skills and experience will always be important for warehouse associates, sometimes these qualifications are not present in the available labor pool. By placing a greater emphasis on culture, companies can fill positions with people that are good fits for their organizations – and then train them up.

At Weber Logistics, for example, some of the key traits we value in prospective employees are:

  • A desire to serve our customers
  • A desire to be servant leaders
  • A willingness to learn and grow as technology changes
  • A willingness to work in teams and cooperative work cells
  • Flexibility in the type of work they’re willing to perform

These traits are as important to our company as any skillset or amount of experience. And, by finding team members that embody these traits, we’ve found that operational success typically follows.

Avoid cutting labor when volumes are low

For many warehousing operations, especially smaller ones, the amount of staff on hand is proportionate to the volume of goods moving into and out of the warehouse. When volumes are high, these companies try to hire. When volumes are low, they cut staff.

This is a mistake.

With competition so high in the warehouse labor market, it is very difficult to recruit employees. Once an associate is hired and time and resources have been spent in attracting, recruiting and training that associate, it can negatively impact business to simply let him or her walk out the door. Because it’s not just the person that is hard to replace, it’s that person’s earned knowledge and experience. Why let that knowledge and experience go to a competitor?

And the next time volumes go up? The process will have to be repeated. Time and resources will be spent to attract, recruit and train – while the operation takes hits on product and customer service until the new associates get up to speed.

Of course, it’s hard to keep labor that your finances won’t allow. This is one of the key reasons that many warehousing operations partner with larger third-party logistics providers (3PLs) that have multiple customers. By having multiple customers, the 3PL can flex its labor and resources, allocating them to different operations as needed. Customer operations that are experiencing high volumes continually receive resources from slower operations. All the while, the 3PL’s workforce remains engaged and intact.  

To learn more about these and other benefits of entrusting your warehousing operation to a 3PL, contact Weber Logistics today.

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Topics: Warehouse operations, 3PL Outsourcing, Labor issues, Labor-Productivity

Written by Todd Naramore

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