Editor’s note: The following column by Eric Allais, president and CEO, PathGuide Technologies, is part of Modern’sOther Voices column, a series featuring ideas, opinions and insights from end-users, analysts, systems integrators and OEMs. Click here to learn about submitting a column for consideration.
Welcome to the ‘New Roaring Twenties.’ If you’re part of today’s labor force, congratulations. You haven’t had this much leverage in the job market in half a century. If you’re an employer, I feel your pain. Attracting and retaining top talent has never been more difficult. At the same time, a new generation is entering the workforce and the makeup of the labor pool will shift dramatically in the coming decade.
Reflecting on what lies ahead for the 2020s, I recently explored what’s next for the warehouse worker. While the new decade is off to a roaring start, uncertainly abounds. First and foremost, today’s workforce already looks remarkably different than what we remember just a few years ago. According to ManpowerGroup, Millennials will make up 35% of the global workforce this year, while Gen Z’s share will grow to 24%. This is impressive when considering the oldest members of this generation are still in their early 20s.
Who are these newest members of the workforce and what will it take for distributors to recruit and retain them?
React to attract As noted in a recent study by the UC Berkeley Labor Center, “aggregate employment levels in the warehousing industry will likely continue to rise over the next five to 10 years.” But with Baby Boomers retiring at a rate of about 10,000 each day – or almost 7 every minute – and the oldest Gen Xers already reaching their mid-50s, distributors must focus their attention on hiring younger Millennials and the incoming Gen Z workers. Doing so requires a different approach to recruiting than what you might be accustomed to today.
If you’re still relying on classified ads, job fairs and the like, you’re not reaching the next generation of workers who are “digital natives.” Social media is a great place to connect with young talent, but choose the medium wisely. Facebook is unlikely to reach any but the oldest of the Millennials. Instead, LinkedIn and Instagram (and whatever comes next) are better choices for reaching younger talent. And, as noted in an Association Education Alliance white paper, Confronting the Labor Shortage: Strategies and Solutions for Distributors Facing a Growing Skills Gap, “companies ignore their ratings on Glassdoor at their peril – because job seekers aren’t ignoring them.”
According to a recent Deloitte survey, 77% of Gen Z respondents said it’s important to work for organizations whose values align with their own. In other words, “Gen Z no longer forms opinions of a company solely based on the quality of their products or services, but also now on their ethics, practices and social impact.”
While making a pledge to introduce carbon-free operations likely isn’t feasible for most distributors, there are smaller steps companies can take to demonstrate their commitment to social responsibility. Promoting volunteer opportunities to support local charities such as environmental causes, food banks, homeless shelters or at-risk youth are all ways to reflect a commitment to addressing societal challenges.
Aim to retain While attracting new talent is key, retaining the current and incoming warehouse workforce is of equal (perhaps, greater) importance as it costs significantly less to retain a quality individual than to hire and train a new person. How can warehouse managers help their employees feel like they’re making an impact on a daily basis, while also incentivizing them to stay and grow with the company? Naturally, wages will continue to rise due to increasing fulfillment demand as long as unemployment remains at record lows. Therefore, companies need to start thinking more creatively about how they can not only recruit but retain their newest workers.
For example, employee engagement programs that tie rewards or other valuables to worker performance are effective at increasing job satisfaction and overall productivity. Recruiter.com describes this ‘gamification of the workplace’ trend – and when you consider that 90% of Gen Z plays video games, it makes sense. It was reported by the Washington Post last year that Amazon introduced this concept at a handful of its warehouses to help make the work of pickers and stowers feel more like a game. Since younger workers are not afraid of technology, don’t be afraid to find creative ways to incorporate tech into the warehouse to show how it makes the work easier, safer and more satisfying.
Take Kennesaw, Ga.-based ESP Gauges, for example. The company utilized the data generated by its warehouse management system to institute a pay-for-performance program two years ago, and in the process ‘gamified’ the warehouse in their own unique way. Employees quickly saw how the new system could affect their paychecks. It’s not uncommon now for ESP employees to achieve a more than 30% increase in pay as a result. What’s more, flat screen monitors in the warehouse display metrics – acting as a stats chart (high scores, if you will) – and have created a healthy competition among coworkers to be at the top of the chart for picking, receiving or other tasks.
It’s clear that as we look ahead to the next 10 years, the workplace will look a lot different – and younger – than it does today. With all but the youngest Baby Boomers left on the job, Millennials and Gen Z will account for roughly two-thirds of the workforce by 2030. How distributors recruit and retain the next generation of warehouse workers will need to shift in response.
Those companies that find ways to connect with and win over new employees, while also being mindful of training, retraining and engaging those workers once they’re hired, are certain to find themselves with a highly functional and satisfied warehouse workforce.
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