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Technologies and Strategies to Maximize Seasonal and Temporary Workers

Implementing adaptable supply chain software and technology can help boost seasonal worker productivity while decreasing training costs and safety risks.

Given the growth of e-commerce and consumers’ expectations for rapid delivery, many businesses are relying on temporary workers to fill in the gaps during peak periods. Seasonal workers are often highly motivated and hard-working, but lacking in the experience and training that would best prepare them for their role in the warehouse. Plus, when temporary employees are hired to meet increased demand, work typically ramps up quickly and there isn’t time for a steep learning curve.

The supply chain labor shortage [1] that has hit much of North America, Europe, and other parts of the world often means that quality warehouse associates are hard to find. Though unemployment has recently gone up due to the economic impact of COVID-19, the expansion of e-commerce means that many businesses still can’t hire warehouse workers fast enough to keep up with demand.

Plus, even if you can find enough seasonal workers to increase throughput during peak periods, it takes time to train them and get them up to speed. As order volumes ramp up, supply chain managers are often concerned about keeping inexperienced workers safe and ensuring they meet the necessary levels of productivity. With these factors to consider, how long is it before seasonal employees return a benefit back to the company?

In the face of these challenges, it's essential for businesses to employ warehouse technology and software that is easy for seasonal workers to learn in a limited amount of time and start using right away. For instance, tools like warehouse management systems, voice picking technology, and supply chain robotics can help boost the efficiency of temporary workers.

Increasing Productivity with Warehouse Technology

Typically, a temporary workforce is brought in to perform repetitive tasks against volume. In this situation, businesses need to determine how to empower workers to perform quickly and effectively. One way to introduce efficiency into the warehouse is to offer directed activity for workers. A high-quality WMS, for instance, has the capability to algorithmically put together the best patterns for employees to follow. In this way, every task that an individual completes in the warehouse is optimized, and you can ensure that temporary workers are closely aligned with standard operating procedures (SOPs).

To further boost productivity, many businesses are investing in warehouse automation such as autonomous mobile robots — voice-controlled, self-driving robots that are able to move inventory through a warehouse. These devices save space, cut costs, and eliminate much of the tedium of warehouse work. Businesses typically invest in AMRs to cover all of their workload during off-season days, and since robots and workers can safely exist in the same space, they are able to add more manual workers during peak times. This offers a much better ROI compared to fixed automation, which is typically designed to operate during peaks and is therefore underutilized during the rest of the year. Further, because AMRs are scalable and easy to deploy, you also have the option of renting additional automation for peak seasons.

When it comes to the efficiency of both seasonal and year-round employees, being able to work with warehouse technology is key. Voice-activated picking, for instance, is easy for new workers to learn and use. Sometimes referred to as “hands-free, eye-free picking,” voice technology can increase worker productivity by translating picking orders through a headset. This leaves workers free to move through the warehouse without being physically or mentally burdened by scanners or paper. With quality voice picking training, accuracy is improved while onboarding time and damages are cut down considerably. 

Another emerging technology that can help with on-boarding is augmented reality. AR offers a quick, simple training process, guiding workers visually with arrows that appear on the floor or shelf. This technology can even be gamified, directing employees in a way that’s similar to playing a video game. However, despite its benefits, AR is not yet ready to be deployed for a full day of warehouse work. AR glasses can be cumbersome to wear and tiring to work with for eight hours at a time. 

In addition to streamlining training, warehouse technology can also incentivize employees to perform their best work. For instance, with the help of advanced labor metrics provided by a WMS or even deeper analytics offered by a labor management system (LMS), you can carefully track each worker’s efficiency. You can then use these dynamic standards to reward employees for productivity with incentive-based pay. This approach motivates workers to perform at their highest level — with confidence that they will be compensated accordingly — and helps avoid the risk of “warehouse hopping.”

How to Improve Safety for Seasonal Workers

In a traditional warehouse, forklifts and other manually-operated machines may pose a risk to workers. There is the potential of collisions, as well as the long-term effects of warehouse labor like worker fatigue. As temporary employees have less experience with the warehouse layout and day-to-day operations, they may be at an even greater risk of injuries. 

A recent study found that the rate of worker injury increases substantially when employees work long shifts, meaning that the more fatigued workers get, the more likely they are to experience injuries. [2] Fortunately, warehouse robots are able to work long shifts without any drop off in performance, and can handle the more strenuous duties that can quickly tire out human employees. Many AMRs are designed to lift heavy objects and safely reach great heights, taking over tasks that involve potentially hazardous inventory movement. 

In a highly automated warehouse, there are minimal forklifts or other manually-operated machines. Instead, a goods-to-person system is used to transport products to workers for picking. AMRs can work together with humans to reduce the travel paths of seasonal or temporary workers, therefore mitigating the risk of injury and error.

By strategically implementing warehouse technology, supply chain managers can increase seasonal worker productivity while decreasing errors and training costs. These measures are not only good for your bottom line, but they can also help businesses prepare for the unexpected — such as the disruption caused by COVID-19. Automation is reliable even when people are not, allowing supply chain managers to proactively address any challenges that may arise.

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