Given the last 18 months of chaos in the shipping industry, workforce planning is critical as we enter what is traditionally called peak season. While industry pundits give shippers tips on how to manage shipments, the human factor is often an afterthought. Teams need to be staffed, trained and ready to unload shipments at distribution centers and warehouses, stock shelves, manage the inventory, take orders and pick and pack for delivery.
This is a tall order during a historically erratic time in the global shipping industry. By now we all know the story about the pandemic’s impact on supply chains. Ports in Asia all but closed in early 2020 due to the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while freight made its way to the United States. By the time shipments arrived, Americans were in quarantine and shopping online. Data from a new report shows a 33% growth rate in online shopping with $792 billon in orders—some 14% of all retail sales. With little to nowhere to go, goods not experiences continue to be in high demand.
This situation is going to create a hectic and chaotic fall for warehouse operators and distribution centers who were already having a hard time staffing. Respondents from one survey said one of their toughest challenges is finding and retaining talent with 33% saying they had difficulty finding qualified supervisors. The survey shows 41% of respondents cited the need for more people their second top challenge with the first being number of SKUs. Given the current jobs market, where will companies find people for peak season work?
There’s good news on the horizon. Federal pandemic benefits end in September. And, that means many people will need to return to the job market. Now is the time for workforce planning and perhaps taking a new approach how to recruit and retain talent. A 2020 Gartner study shows, when done well, it will boost the bottom line. Gartner’s analysis shows businesses that cut costs to reallocate and make investments in talent in 2020 realized an average 8.2% increase in Q4 revenue.
Workforce planning tips for peak season talent
1. Align with human resources teams. Supply chain leadership should work with human resources teams to share peak season staffing needs in detail. With shipping moving at an erratic pace, discuss flexibility and backup plans for staffing. Consider using contract workers to supplement warehouse and distribution center needs instead of taking on more staff.
2. Consider the flexibility of contract workers. A study by APQC looked into workforce planning processes and found best in class workforce planners use several approaches to address the need for workers including contract workers (76% vs. 42%). Finding the right partner for staffing is critical. There are agencies that specialize in warehouse workers.
3. Tap in into apps. With the advent of apps, many staffing companies use the technology to staff jobs within days. Contract workers who make gig work their full-time employment are attuned to scrolling jobs to see what’s available and fits their skill set. They will pick up shifts the day prior to an assignment to keep earning. This gives business customers a more flexible staffing model during an unpredictable peak season.
4. Give the details. Contract workers like flexibility but appreciate job details. Share where a contractor reports and to whom, what they should wear, the hours and days for work, what exactly the job entails and anything else of importance. These details lead to a high level of satisfaction. When another job opens, a contractor will return, and they’ll share their welcoming experience with friends.
5. Communicate to full-time staff. Hiring temp workers for a peak season situation can lead to animosity among full time staff if the “why” not communicated. Share the workforce planning strategy with your permanent team, so they understand the seasonal help is just that -- help for a few months to fill in the gaps during a busy time.