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Stuart O'Brien

Warehouse labour shortages – are robots the answer?

Collaborative robots could help tackle a looming labour shortage in UK warehouses by addressing the barriers deterring people from working in the sector, according to a new survey by fulfilment specialist 6 River Systems.

The labour shortage is already impacting the hospitality and logistics sectors due to EU nationals returning to their home countries as a result of a combination of Brexit and Covid-19 and an ageing national population means there are fewer potential workers able to undertake physical work. These factors will leave the sector less able to recruit workers to fulfil the booming demand for e-commerce sales.

UKHospitality, a trade body, said in May that the sector had a shortfall of 188,000 workers, while in the same month the job seeker website Adzuna noted a 36 per cent increase in job ads for the logistics and warehouse sector since March.

The survey by 6 River Systems, which makes Chuck, a collaborative picking robot, suggests that people are put off working in warehouses and fulfilment centres by the physical nature of the work, which often involves pushing a heavy trolley for miles each day to pick or pack items. The physical nature of the work was also cited by 14 per cent of respondents as a reason why they would not work in a warehouse at any stage of their career. For nine per cent of respondents, the perceived reading and maths skills required prevented them from considering such a role.

Meanwhile, many employees in the sector are unhappy in their roles and few see themselves doing similar work for the rest of their career, suggesting that there will be a decline to the existing workforce in the near future. Just eight per cent of warehouse or fulfilment centre workers said that they could definitely see themselves continuing in that sort of role until they retired. Twenty-one per cent said that the work would be too physical.

However, around a third (32 per cent) of respondents who didn’t work in a warehouse or fulfilment centre said that they might or would consider working in one if such barriers could be overcome, offering some hope for the sector. Twelve per cent of women were in this category, along with around 17 per cent of people approaching retirement aged 55-64.

The survey of current and former warehouse and fulfilment centre workers, as well as those who had considered work in the sector, revealed that they were unhappy in their jobs for a variety of reasons, with key complaints including the physical nature of the job, being short-staffed and pressure to work faster. Only 15 per cent said that they really enjoyed their roles.

When asked whether they would welcome collaborative picking robots with artificial intelligence and machine learning to make the work less physical and reduce the amount of walking required by directing the worker to the shortest routes, 35 per cent of those currently or previously working in a warehouse said that this would help. This was either because the job was physical, their work left them very tired or because their employer was short-staffed.

Eleven per cent said they had had an accident involving a trolley at work, of which three per cent had to take time off work.

Simon Jones, Solutions Executive UK & Ireland at 6 River Systems, said: “It’s clear from this survey that the physical nature of work in warehouses and fulfilment centres makes it hard to attract and retain the employees required to support the boom we are seeing in e-commerce. The survey also shows that many people working in the sector would welcome collaborative picking robots such as those made by 6 River Systems, which can ease the physical burden on employees and open up a much wider potential labour pool to help alleviate the expected labour shortage in the sector.”

6 River Systems asked 161 people who had worked or considered working in a warehouse or fulfilment centre a series of questions between Monday June 21 and Monday June 28 2021 via a Google Survey. The questions targeted men and women of working age living across the UK.

SAVE THE DATE: Total Supply Chain Summit – November 2021

If you couldn’t make July’s Total Supply Chain Summit, don’t panic! The second of our 2021 events will take place on November 1st & 2nd.

It’s free for you to attend and could help you reduce your expenditure by matching you up with innovative suppliers who match your business requirements.

So register today to secure your place (live and virtual attendance options are available). Here’s why you should attend:

  • As one of our guests, you will be provided with a bespoke itinerary of face-to-face meetings with suppliers based on mutual agreement. No hard sell, and no time wasted.
  • You’ll have the opportunity to attend insightful seminars and interactive workshops.
  • Network with 60+ other supply chain professionals who share your challenges.
  • Enjoy complimentary lunch and refreshments.

Taking place at the Queens Hotel in Leeds, the Total Supply Chain Summit provides a platform for new business connections.

But act swiftly! Register today!

Do you specialise in Logistics & Operations Management? We want to hear from you!

Each month on Supply Chain Briefing we’ll be shining the spotlight on a different part of the logistics market – and in August we’ll be focussing on Logistics & Operations Management.

It’s all part of our ‘Recommended’ editorial feature, designed to help supply chain industry buyers find the best products and services available today.

So, if you’re a Logistics & Operations Management specialist and would like to be included as part of this exciting new shop window, we’d love to hear from you – for more info, contact Nick Stannard on n.stannard@forumevents.co.uk.

Here’s our features list in full:

Aug – Logistics & Operations Management
Sept – 3PL & 4PL 
Oct – Labelling & Packaging
Nov – Order Fulfilment
Dec – Transport Planning & Load Optimisation

5 Minutes With… Simon Wood, LPR

In the latest instalment of our supply chain industry executive interview series, we spoke to Simon Wood, Operations Director at LPR UK & Ireland, about the company, the ongoing impacts of Brexit and COVID-19, market opportunities and new technology…

Tell us about your company, products and services.

LPR UK is a subsidiary of LPR – La Palette Rouge, a leading pan European, pallet pooling business working in the FMCG sector. The business is present in 15 countries and moves more than 107 million pallets per year.

What have been the biggest challenges the Supply Chain industry has faced over the past 12 months?

The two biggest are obviously the pandemic and Brexit. The pandemic saw heightened consumer led demand. Supporting our customers in their response to the panic buying led to some very long days! It also highlighted how little the public understands about the way the supply chain works, and why the panic buying was unnecessary.

With Brexit the impact came in the form of ISPM15. It became clear quite early on that there was a lack of understanding in the FMCG sector about what it was, and how to achieve compliance. Fortunately, being pan-European, ISPM15 wasn’t new to us so we were able to help our customers ensure that their deliveries didn’t fall foul of the regulations.

And what have been the biggest opportunities?

It was great to see the industry being given a higher profile and a more positive image. Perceptions have changed and more is known about the importance of the supply chain. 

I’m hoping that this will lead to increased interest in people joining the sector.

What is the biggest priority for the Supply Chain industry in 2021?

Creating stability in the supply of raw materials (particularly timber) and tackling shortages in the labour market. 

The labour market has always been a challenge and I’m hopeful that people will now see the value in becoming part of the supply chain industry.

What are the main trends you are expecting to see in the market in 2021?

Retail and consumer growth. eCommerce particularly. Businesses will be looking for partners with a consistent approach and able to offer cost reductions (particularly important given some of the overspending seen and whilst businesses look to stabilise).

Sustainable growth in eCommerce. Non-essential retail has a huge challenge ahead of it due to the changes in consumer consumption, they need to offer something more meaningful.

What technology is going to have the biggest impact on the market this year?

Greater digitalisation in businesses, particularly in stock control and automation.  eCommerce will feed this trend. 

In 2024 we’ll all be talking about…?

Probably the pandemic of 2020. How 2020 / 21 was a stepping stone to changes in how we use technology, in consumer consumption habits and working policies – of course by then most of this will be ancient history. 

The automotive industry’s evolution into a cleaner haulage system and I hope that we’ll see a move to more intelligent driving systems – making smart motorways safer and smarter.

Which person in, or associated with, the Supply Chain industry would you most like to meet?

Anyone leading the move to clean transport systems – probably the lead at Rivian – who are working with Amazon on the launch of new commercial delivery vehicles.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learnt about the Supply Chain sector?

How diverse and critical it is to everyday life and how the humble pallet is absolutely fundamental to it – strange considering it was created after WW11 and is largely unchanged.

You go to the bar at the Total Supply Chain Summit – what’s your tipple of choice?

A cold beer.

What’s the most exciting thing about your job?

Continuous challenges and looking to the future – trying to anticipate what’s coming next!

And what’s the most challenging?

The lack of predictability – makes forward planning interesting.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Don’t be afraid to sleep on a decision.

Peaky Blinders or Stranger Things?

Neither. I’ve been watching This Is Us!

Total Supply Chain Summit: Just two weeks to go!

Good news! This month’s Total Supply Chain Summit is still going ahead, as planned and we cannot wait to see you in person!

The Summit has been unaffected by the recent announcement, but we wanted to reach out and update you about the guidelines that we have put in place at the event; 

– Plenty of space as the venue will be running at 50% capacity

– Registration will be staggered ensuring no long queues
– Your temperature will be taken at arrival

– Face masks must be worn at all times, unless exempt or seated

– The event will be as paper free as possible – your itinerary will be sent to you via email

– Sanitation stations will be dotted around the venue for you to use

– Meeting booths will be spaced out (in line with the current social distance measures) and will consist of a table and two chairs with a protective screen

– There will be a one way system in place, which will be pointed out with arrows on the floor

– All meals and refreshment will follow the government guidelines – 6 to a table – BBQ and entertainment creating a relaxed and fun atmosphere.
 Flexible attendance – including the ability to switch to VIRTUAL attendance.

Your pass includes overnight accommodation – We only have a limited number of rooms left available. 

Please click here to register.

We look forward to seeing you on the 12th & 13th July at Whittlebury Park (Golf & Spa Hotel), Northamptonshire.

Do you specialise in Supply Chain Software? We want to hear from you!

Each month on Supply Chain Briefing we’ll be shining the spotlight on a different part of the logistics market – and in June we’ll be focussing on Supply Chain Software.

It’s all part of our ‘Recommended’ editorial feature, designed to help supply chain industry buyers find the best products and services available today.

So, if you’re a Supply Chain Software specialist and would like to be included as part of this exciting new shop window, we’d love to hear from you – for more info, contact Nick Stannard on n.stannard@forumevents.co.uk.

Here’s our features list in full:

Jul – Supply Chain Software
Aug – Logistics & Operations Management
Sept – 3PL & 4PL
Oct – Labelling & Packaging
Nov – Order Fulfilment
Dec – Transport Planning & Load Optimisation

Total Supply Chain Summit: Register today for November’s event!

Your place at November’s Total Supply Chain Summit is entirely free – have you secured yours?

Your bespoke itinerary will be designed entirely based on your selections and those that match your business requirements.

Also included (when attending the LIVE event) –

– Overnight accommodation
– All meals / refreshments throughout
– Networking throughout with fellow supply chain, distribution and logistics professionals
– Invite to our exclusive evening dinner

PLUS, you can also enjoy access to a series of live seminar sessions about “Inspiring the next generation of logisticians” and future challenges within the industry.

1st & 2nd November – Radisson Blu Manchester Airport

You can confirm your attendance options here – https://totalsupplychainsummit.co.uk/delegates-booking-form/

Or, if you have any questions then please do not hesitate to contact us at – c.thake@forumevents.co.uk

5 Minutes With… Bob Tarrant, UniCarriers UK

We recently spoke to Bob Tarrant, UK Products Manager at Unicarriers UK, about the company’s forklift solutions, an increase in storage systems reviews, the importance of data and operational efficiencies…

Tell us about your company, products, and services.

UniCarriers have been a global supplier of forklift trucks for over 50 years. We are totally committed to developing the most cost-effective materials handling and storage solutions for our customers. Advice from our highly skilled team of materials handling consultants is backed up by our PC based warehouse simulation program, Logistics Analyser.

What have been the biggest challenges the Supply Chain industry has faced over the past 12 months?

After a tough year of living with the global pandemic and Brexit uncertainty, we’ve seen a marked increase in customers reviewing their storage systems in readiness for an upturn in a post-Covid climate. We’ve been busy producing warehouse simulations to help customers analyse their activities and MHE utilisation in greater detail.

And what have been the biggest opportunities?

For us, the opportunity to step up and provide the comprehensive data driven reports that our customers need. UniCarriers are producing an increasing amount of digital activity scenarios to assist op’s managers to rationalise their available resources. 

What is the biggest priority for the Supply Chain industry in 2022?

To increase operational efficiency through analytics; To measure and appraise warehouse processes and activities.

What are the main trends you are expecting to see in the market in 2022?

We expect to see a continuation of the upward trend in storage system reviews. Businesses looking to re-purpose non-profitable warehouse space to accommodate the increase in on-line sales, SKUs and throughput volumes.

What technology is going to have the biggest impact on the market this year?

Digital twins and Application modelling are on the increase; ‘simulation before implementation’. Fortunately, UniCarriers had this vision way back in year 2000 and began the development of the Logistics Analyser program; A transparent way to measure and analyse, not just storage systems and MHE, but other associated areas of the warehouse that combine to produce goods flow.

An introduction to the Logistics Analyser program can be found here.

In 2022 we’ll all be talking about?

Adapting to the ‘new normal’, more focus on B2C and e-commerce warehouse strategies.  

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learnt about the Supply Chain sector?

I sometimes find it surprising how much MHE dormancy or over-utilisation is accepted, the costs of which have to be allocated to other goods flow processes. Using the UniCarriers Logistics analyser program, we can help to identify levels of MHE required to cover shift patterns, peak periods with opportunities to adjust fleet sizes.

What’s the most exciting thing about your job?

Demonstrating by simulation, that very subtle changes to storage system layouts and MHE activities can have a dramatic effect on goods flow cycle times, and ultimately profitability.

And what’s the most challenging?

Site surveys in cold and damp applications can sometimes be quite challenging but are none the less, always a pleasure and never a chore! 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Assume nothing!

www.unicarrierseurope.com/uk/Logistics-Analyser

5 Minutes WIth… Logistics Reply’s Patrick Barlow

In the latest instalment of our supply chain industry executive interview series, we spoke to Patrick Barlow, Senior Manager at Logistics Reply, about the company, the ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic, market opportunities, new technology and real-time visibility…

Tell us about your company, products and services.

Logistics Reply has been creating Warehouse Management Systems for over 20 years in the Food / Retail / 3PL / Manufacturing / Automotive sectors, and as a result we now also offer our own agile microserviced Supply Chain Fulfilment software that looks upstream/downstream from the warehouse – with ‘off the shelf’ products such as Yard Management; Dock Appointment Scheduling; Proof Of Delivery; Real-time Stock Visibility; Ship From Store, Dark-Store Fulfilment and Dropship.

What have been the biggest challenges the Supply Chain industry has faced over the past 12 months?

  • The ever-changing “Will They / Won’t They” game of Lockdown release/contraction (and how it’s affected people’s buying patterns and the resulting ever-changing Fulfilment challenges).
  • Close-proximity working / On-site outbreaks and Isolation / Working from home.
  • All with a delicate sprinkling of Brexit’s delightful cocktail of Border Compliance Requirements (outbound and inbound).

And what have been the biggest opportunities?

  • The ‘opportunity’ for most Store-only Retailers to have to adapt and go Multi-channel (if they succeeded!);
  • One horticultural supplier (Double H) who used to supply only direct to Retailers and were on the brink of collapse, but successfully turned it around by founding their own e-Commerce website and are now doing better than ever.
  • And anybody offering agile Warehouse Space has definitely had it all snapped up!!!

What is the biggest priority for the Supply Chain industry in 2021?

  • Single View Of Stock (across all players in the chain); and Cost-effective Agile Fulfilment – the one feeds the other.
  • To answer the question “Which stock is closest to which Customer, and therefore where should it be picked / fulfilled from – National DC, Local DC, Retail Store, Dark Store, or Dropship/Supplier Direct Fulfilment?”

What are the main trends you are expecting to see in the market in 2021?

  • Manufacturers/Suppliers, 3PLs and Retailers all working collaboratively to achieve Real-Time Visibility.

What technology is going to have the biggest impact on the market this year?

  • For More Mature/Established players – End-To-End Real-Time Inbound Visibility; AI for Demand Planning; and possibly Blockchain for Sustainability.
  • For Medium-Sized players – it could be agile/cloud-based Warehouse Management Systems;
  • For Smaller Supplier/Manufacturers – it’s likely to be Despatch-only software (to provide their larger Customers with the Inbound Tracking/Visibility they need, without actual Stock Management).

In 2022 we’ll all be talking about…?

  • How to over-correct/re-balance some of the understandably swift decisions taken in relation to Lockdown in 2020-1. (“We need to re-open in some of the store locations we walked away from… How much will it cost us?)

Which person in, or associated with, the Supply Chain industry would you most like to meet?

  • We’ve been lucky enough to meet the Ocado team and work with them, which is cutting-edge…

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learnt about the Supply Chain sector?

  • The myriad ways in which people supply different products – differing speeds of movement / supply chain models (Efficient; Fast; Continuous Flow etc.)
  • The difference in priorities by different Countries / Cultures (what works in one, won’t work in another).

You go to the bar at the Total Supply Chain Summit – what’s your tipple of choice?

  • I’m a big fan of red wine (Pinot Noir, Malbec, Montepulciano)

What’s the most exciting thing about your job?

  • New requests / new requirements that we haven’t thought of: “Can you do this…?”
  • Site Visits – seeing how different people and organisations achieve things, and meeting new people.
  • I’m personally also always delighted when a Brand-new Customer contacts us and says we were recommended by an Existing Customer… no better feeling!!!

And what’s the most challenging?

  • Prioritisation – with 10 products, 4 sectors and perennially vocal clients (whom we love!) there’s never a dull moment!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

  1. “Don’t listen to the Words People Say, pay attention to The Overall Nature Of Their Behaviour.”
  2. And easily the best definition of Sales I ever heard: “Sales = Friendship + Expertise.”
    (ie. if one of them isn’t there, it will never, ever happen)

Peaky Blinders or Stranger Things?

  • Whilst the title of Stranger Things might reflect the past 1-2 years for all of us… it’s got to be Peaky Blinders!

Are you attending next month’s Total Supply Chain Summit? Limited places available!

As a professional within the industry, your place at the Total Supply Chain Summit is entirely free – your bespoke itinerary will be designed entirely based on your selections and those that match your business requirements.

Also included (when attending the LIVE event) –

– Overnight accommodation
– All meals / refreshments throughout
– Networking throughout with fellow supply chain, distribution and logistics professionals
– Invite to our exclusive evening dinner

PLUS, you can also enjoy access to a series of live seminar sessions about “Inspiring the next generation of logisticians” and future challenges within the industry.

12th & 13th July – Radisson Hotel & Conference Centre, London Heathrow.

You can confirm your attendance options here – https://totalsupplychainsummit.co.uk/delegates-booking-form/

Or, if you have any questions then please do not hesitate to contact us at – c.thake@forumevents.co.uk