On Monday, March 8th, a vice president of supply chain for a large retail chain – a chain with over 5,000 stores – spoke at Körber’s supply chain conference Elevate. Körber is a leading provider of logistics software, material handling, voice, and consulting solutions. This retailer seeks to become a leader in employing people with disabilities. The company’s experience in hiring people that self-designate as disabled in their distribution centers (DCs) has been positive. The company has seen strong productivity, even stronger safety performance, and better retention among these workers. The accommodations they make for the disabled have proven beneficial to their entire workforce.
Technology Can Aid in Hiring the Disabled
Part of the story of this retailer’s employment of the disabled in their DCs is a story of technology adoption. This executive was speaking at Körber Elevate because this retailer has chosen to standardize on Cloud warehouse and labor management systems (WMS and LMS) from Körber. This VP was so positive about the Körber solution that the solution provider could not have asked for a better customer to keynote the first day of their virtual conference.
For many of the products this chain fulfills, their delivery window can be as quick as 30 minutes. This service window means that their DCs need to operate at a very high level in terms of throughput and accuracy. The company is also striving to improve their omnichannel capabilities. This retail chain believed they needed a digital transformation across their DCs to support these goals.
Two years ago, the company had 5 different warehouse management systems. Before the company could innovate, they needed to standardize on one operating platform. Without a standard warehouse management platform, the ability to scale best practices and processes across their DC network with would not allow the company to run standard processes across all their DCs. The warehouse management system serves as the cyber-brain that drives the tasks warehouse workers engage in.
The goal was to start with the “what” – how workers receive, pick, and ship goods and ensure that the same processes and tools were being used across the DC network. Once that was in place, the company could implement preferred methods. Preferred methods involve having their industrial engineers minutely examine processes and standardize on the safest and most productive way to do those tasks.
The next step in the journey will be to implement engineered labor standards. Engineered labor standards adds on to preferred methods a time component. For example, it should take this long to reach up to the third shelf in this location and pick three items. The goal of labor standards is to have people do tasks in the right way and to do them efficiently, without making workers needing to work at too quick a pace. All workers that work steadily and intelligently should be able to achieve their labor goals for the day.
The final step in their journey will be to implement a pay for performance program. Workers that exceed their goals, while working safely, will be paid a bonus reflective of their productivity. When the aftermarket parts company climbs all the way up the empowerment ladder to pay for performance, they will have built a culture of high performance while driving down turnover among their most productive employees.
In selecting Körber, the IT and operations personnel at this chain scored leading WMS suppliers on several dimensions. Körber ranked the highest. One key dimension for selecting a Cloud product is assurance that the solution will have high availability. There is a service level agreement that the system will be up 99.9% of the time, and very fast disaster recovery capabilities.
The executive went on to exclaim that Körber had been an “unbelievable” partner. He said that Körber has “the same goals and the same dedication to achieving results” that the retailer has.
The Disabled Workers Program
The disabled workers program was launched in 2019. Currently disabled workers are employed at 8 supply chain locations. By the end of the year, disabled workers will be employed at 19 more locations. By the end of 2022, the goal is to have disabled workers employed at all DC locations.
Out of the 6,000 people in warehousing, 150 currently self-describe themselves as having a disability. The executive said that this has been an “unbelievable workforce for us. This is not about charity. It is about business.” There is high turnover in warehouses. “Hiring people is tough for all of us.” What if I “told you I had a workforce that sticks with you, has high retention, that shows up to work every day, that is easy to train, that is safe, that is productive. You’d say tell me about that workforce! This is them… our hidden secret.” Safety is a key metric at the company. There have been no safety incidents among the disabled.
The executive went on to say, “as you start to design your processes for people with disabilities, particularly if they have cognitive learning disabilities, you start to make … ‘reasonable accommodations.’ But what you are actually doing is making your processes easier for people to follow. And that works for your fully abled people as well.” As they simplified their processes, morale improved in their DCs.
A warehouse management system is the tool that directs work in the DC; the WMS tells workers where they need to go and what they need to work on next. That is the tie between the WMS technology and the success of this program. The goal is to have more than 10% of their supply chain employees, 750 people, be part of this program. Körber has been the “big unlock” for this.