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Supply Chain News: Recommendations on Handling Warehouse Worker Concerns over Increased Automation


Three Ideas for Increasing the Acceptance of Automation in the Distribution Center

March 15, 2022


SCDigest Editorial Staff

Last week, SCDigest summarized findings of new research from Accenture on how warehouse workers think about distribution automation, based on interviews with almost 70 workers and supervisors across the globe. (See An Interesting Look at How Warehouse Workers Think about Automation.)

Supply Chain Digest Says...

The research cites FedEx’s approach in which it uses virtual reality simulations and gamified training programs to train its thousands of warehouse employees.

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The research was published on the Harvard Business Review on-line web site.

In summary, and not surprisingly, the top concern of the workers was losing their jobs to automation. The second highest concern was a fear that inadequate training resources at their companies would reduce workers’ ability to succeed in a new, digital workplace.

In third place was fear that if automation breaks, workers would be unable to fix the problem, and leading to a perhaps significant decline in throughput.

On the other side, the top positive perception of automation by workers was the potential to improve safety, including a reduction in physical wear and tear.

The next highest positive perception was actually the increased speed and efficiency that automation can bring – interesting, and perhaps somewhat contradictory to the concerns about job losses.

Finally, in third place on the positive side was how support from automation could enable workers to do their jobs better – and enjoy the job more.

Based on this research, the Accenture team offered some recommendations for companies considering automation, relative to warehouse staff.

First, the Accenture researchers recommend that companies “emphasize growth opportunities” for workers.

“Employers must proactively expand growth opportunities (and make sure that workers have the tools and information they need to take advantage of those opportunities),” the Accenture team notes.

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It adds that some companies have started training centers to help entry-level warehouse workers succeed in their current roles and provide paths for career growth. Importantly, Accenture notes, companies must later demonstrate that real growth is possible by actually having a substantial proportion of entry-level workers in in fact move up the ranks into supervisory and management positions.

Next, Accenture recommends companies “get the training right.”

Tthe researchers found that a lack of training on automation was a major concern for warehouse workers. However, Accenture says, “many well-intentioned employers struggle to provide training that actually works, especially for workers who start their jobs with little or no technical expertise in operating the kinds of robotic systems that are common in automated warehouses.”

The research cites FedEx’s approach in which it uses virtual reality simulations and gamified training programs to train its thousands of warehouse employees. This allows worker to practice difficult tasks before they even set foot on the warehouse floor.

Finally, the researchers encourage to “keep investing in safety.”

While “robotic assistants can save a good deal of wear-and-tear on the human body, they don’t solve everything,” the report notes.

The researchers cite the early efforts by a few companies to invest in so-called “exoskeletons” that provide a mechanical assist with tasks such as case picking or other work involving lifting, potentially reducing fatigue and injury.

But it isn’t just fancy technology that increases safety. Keeping warehouse floors clean and sanitary is an easy tactic, as is creating processes that encourage leadership to work proactively with on-the-ground workers to identify and address safety concerns.

“As organizations look to the future, they must both address workers’ fears and build on their optimism by working to provide safe, productive workplaces and real opportunities for growth,” the Accenture researchers conclude.


What do you think of Accenture's research? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below (email) or in the Feedback section.




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