Industrial operations, including distribution centers (DCs) and manufacturing facilities, have been long on growth in recent years. The sustained growth economy has made hourly labor in industrial facilities hard to find and retain, while customer demands for on-time, accurate deliveries continue to rise.
These pressures are reflected in MHI’s 2019 Annual Industry Report, based on a survey of more than 1,000 supply chain professionals. Conducted jointly with consulting firm Deloitte, the survey’s top industry challenge was “hiring qualified workers,” followed by “customer demands for lower delivered cost” and “customer demand for faster response times.”
It’s not just survey data that points to a serious labor crunch. Across industries, the U.S. Labor Department reported in Aug. 2019 that job openings stood at 7.35 million jobs, or 1.37 million more job positions than those considered unemployed. The result is that companies with warehousing and materials handling operations face an extremely tight labor market, and need to find ways to quickly automate to keep pace with order volumes and customer fulfillment requirements.
“When you look at what is happening in the current environment, there has been a large shift in labor,” says Melonee Wise, CEO of Fetch Robotics, a pioneer in autonomous mobile robot (AMR) solutions. “To begin with, there is a large labor shortage, and difficulties with turnover, which creates fallout in areas like being able to meet commitments during peak seasons. We’re also seeing an aging of the workforce. As they age, it becomes harder and harder for many workers do some of these physically demanding jobs.”