In the last annual survey done by WERC, the average warehouse’s turnover was between 9.4 and 15 percent. This is too high, and turnover is expensive. How can companies perform better in this area? Could the composition of the workforce make a difference?
In recent research conducted by the Pew Research Center, they comment that “the American work force is graying—and not just because the American population itself is graying. Older adults are staying in the labor force longer, and younger adults are staying out of it longer. Both trends took shape about two decades ago. Both have intensified during the current recession. And both are expected to continue after the economy recovers. According to one government estimate, 93 pecent of the growth in the U.S. labor force from 2006 to 2016 will be among workers ages 55 and older.”
Part of the explanation for this is that older people just value work more than the young. However, without automation, certain types of warehouse environments are too physically demanding for many older folks.
Another group that clearly values work is the disabled. Walgreens has received a considerable amount of positive (and much deserved) publicity for a distribution center in Anderson, S.C. where more than 40 percent of the 700 workers are disabled. ABC World News highlighted this story last year (click here to read the article and watch the video). Some Walgreens executives have said that by making the warehouse’s culture accepting to the disabled, they have improved the work environment for everyone. But again we come back to automation. Well thought-out ergonomics, enabled by automation, was the key to allowing Walgreens to employ a large number of disabled workers at this facility.
Automation is expensive, and most forms of “high” automation are a risky investment because of their inflexibility (see “Automated vs. Manual Warehouses: A Different Way of Thinking About ROI” for more on this topic).
However, a new generation of robotic material handling solutions is emerging. The Kiva Systems solution, for example, looks well positioned to provide flexible (lower risk), ergonomic automation that will allow companies to employ older and disabled workers, even for traditionally challenging high-volume, piece-pick operations.
Companies that employ the disabled can get a variety of tax incentives, improve their corporate image, and have a happier workforce. But the right kind of automation will be the key to making this happen.