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Cliff Holste

Supply Chain Digest
Material Handling Editor

Logistics News

Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Material Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.

May 4, 2016

Logistics News : Getting Ready For Peak Shipping Season


Training is Key to Having a Successful Peak Season

 

With less than 6 months before the holiday selling/shipping season, the focus should be on how to improve performance over last year.

For shippers who have been forced to downsize their operations, peak periods may be more challenging. Many of them are “making do” with material handling systems and order fulfillment processing methods that predate the E-commerce ordering explosion. As a result, many such companies are concerned as to how they can get through this year’s peak shipping season without disappointing customers or exhausting their already over stretched workforce.

Holste Says...

Workers that perform below standard are more than a nuisance during peak shipping periods as they can drag down the performance of the entire operation.

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Typically, companies hire additional temporary help to cover peak periods. Past experience combined with up-to-date sales forecast provides the basis for determining how many temps will be needed. However, other factors can enter into the equation, such as: worker experience and job skills, language and/or communication issues, and whether or not they are, or can become, acclimated to the DC environment. Some will leave after receiving their first paycheck, while others will hang-on for a few weeks before dropping out. The turnover can be as high as 60% to 70%.

Given this high turnover rate may seem like a waste of time. Still, the better trained they are, the fewer you will need.

The following are a few practical suggestions for hiring and training temps we collected from interviews with operations managers who are faced with this challenge every year:

  • People referred by current full-time employees generally make the best workers. Have an incentive program in-place to encourage participation.
  • Having a policy that offers opportunity for full-time employment for the best performers is a strong incentive. This is especially true given the on-going high unemployment rate.
  • Start the hiring process well ahead of the peak period. Since DC volume is relative low at that time (the quite before the storm), there can be some flexibility as to how labor is applied. Take some of those surplus hours to maximize training time.
  • Start by training the trainers. The ones who catch-on fast are your best resources for training others.
  • It’s a good idea to have a few bilingual trainers.
  • Quality checks on the temps are essential for weeding out problems and identifying any additional training needs.
  • Train on the simplest tasks first, but allow time to cross-train on tougher tasks. When things get crazy, you will need all-hands-on-deck, and you'll be glad you did!
  • Consider offering performance and attendance cash incentives for meeting and/or exceeding pre-established goals.

Additionally, you might try some of these functional ideas:

  • For the more complex tasks - staff with a team consisting of an experienced full-timer paired with a temp. The temp will get accustomed to doing the job quickly and safely.
  • Some processes, like gift-wrapping and personalizing, are in much heavier demand during the holiday season. Consider an assembly line approach with short, well-defined work processes. Be careful to keep the line balanced and smooth running. And, make sure that there are experienced full-timers in place for quality control.
  • Take advantage of the increase in single-line orders of very popular items. Wherever possible Pick & Pack these directly into shipping containers.

Final Thoughts

Workers that perform below standard are more than a nuisance during peak shipping periods as they can drag down the performance of the entire operation. If replacing or retraining is not an option then they should be assigned tasks that do not impact on the daily shipping schedule. However, if shipping performance is being limited by operational constraints it may be time for an audit of the entire order processing operation.

Any reaction to this Expert Insight column? Send below.


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