Training warehouse labor is costly and time consuming. We spoke with supply chain technology expert Puga Sankara to learn strategies and innovations that reduce the burden of training. Our conversation spans from simple, inexpensive solutions that can be implemented immediately without overhauling your current system, to the incredible technologies on the horizon you should have on your radar. Listen to the podcast or read through the transcript below to learn how to mitigate your current training inefficiencies.
Major Labor Training Problems
Interviewer: Hello, and welcome to the warehouse logistics strategy podcast, sponsored by Unicarriers Forklift. My name is Benjamin Hunting and today I'm speaking with Puga Sankara, co-founder of Smart Gladiator LLC on the topic of labor management. Specifically, we'll be discussing the difficulties associated with training a warehouse workforce, both for effective long term knowledge and in terms of the bottom line. Puga, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.
Puga: Thank you very much for the opportunity and it's a pleasure to be on this podcast.
Interviewer: To start things off, could you tell me what kinds of fundamental problems that managers are facing when trying to onboard new and untrained labor?
Puga: Yes, yes, absolutely. What's happening today in supply chain, especially the distribution centers, which are the hubs of supply chain. One important thing that's happening is there are a lot of millennials walking into the DC, right? And the overall culture within supply chain is risk-averse, right? I mean, I don't want to try something new and lose my customer satisfaction, degree with my customer.
So we tend to play it safe and we tend to always stick to proven, old-school methods of doing things. And now, with the advent of this technology, especially the consumer side of things have changed upside-down with all this mobile technology that's come up. And whereas on the enterprise side, that change has not fully synced in. And with all these millennials that are walking into the DC, these are kids that have grown up with their touchscreen devices and playing with their video games, and pretty much lived their life with technology. They're very technology-savvy and also very technology-dependent.
So giving them a technology that's older...a ten-year-old, twenty-year-old technology, just slows things down. And we just had a conversation with one of the larger retailers, and they said just for temp workers...these are workers that are hired during the holiday season to handle the peak volume. They hire these workers two weeks in advance because that's how long it takes for managers to train these temp workers to get them to be fully productive so they can support the peak volume.
It's being made worse by this paradigm shift that's happening where all this action that used to happen in the retail store are kind of slowly shifting towards the warehouse, right? Because people don't want to go to retail stores any longer because they're getting better deals on Amazon, they can place orders through the web, whatever they want, or they can buy things through the mobile device.
So that means there's a lot more action in the warehouse and the distribution center. That is also adding to the pain to some extent.
Tactical Stategies to Make Training More Efficient
Interviewer: I know we're chomping at the bit to get more deeply into the tech side, but our listeners are interested also in what they can do today with the tools that they already have. And to that end, could you maybe take me through some of these organizational strategies that you see helping warehouse managers being able to train faster? Just through shifting their methods or adopting new practices?
Puga: So for example, I'll just share a simple story. One of our customer's sites, there was two types of managers; there was an older gentleman that would manage the first shift, and there was a younger millennial gentleman that would manage the second shift.
And the first shift warehouse manager would follow the users out...these users are working in their forklifts or turret trucks, or reach trucks; whatever, they are picking boxes. And this older gentleman would follow the users...the users working in the truck, he would follow them in a golf cart. And he would critique them, "Hey, here is how you should do your job. This is how...economically, this is what your movement should be." And that's how he improved people. He educated people. He incorporated best practices.
Whereas in the second shift, this millennial manager was really taking advantage of technology. We had deployed these smart devices, and he said, "Hey, take this device and turn on the video camera, and record yourself doing the job. And let me go ahead and finish my work, and I'll come back. And then after 30 minutes, I'll watch the video and then I'll give you feedback."
This second millennial manager, he not only saved 30 minutes and got something done on the site...where obviously he improved productivity by the extra work that he got done in the 30 minutes. And he also recorded the things so everybody else can look at that and share what are some of the best practices. What is the right way to do a job and things like that.
So it's very important to look at any role from their perspective and leverage the tool. I mean, it doesn't have to be state-of-the-art; you don't have to buy anything, just personal mobile devices, personal tablets.
So leverage those tools and make it easy for these millennials to adapt to this technology, and incorporate training practices, training videos. Simple things like that. That's what I would say.
New Technology to Increase Training Efficiency and Lower Cost
Interviewer: Now, you mentioned technology, and I want to talk a little bit about that. How, specifically, technology is helping to make labor management more efficient and more cost-effective. But I wanted to start with the here and now, which is the technologies that people have access to today that they should have top of their mind in order to avoid maybe getting behind the curve. I'm thinking specifically about communications technologies, automation tech, and smart technologies that are used for tracking and inventory management. Could you maybe tell me a little bit about that?
Puga: Yes, yes, absolutely. What needs to happen is...I mean, there is obviously...there's back-end ERP systems, transportation management systems. There are a lot of these systems big retailers or distributors, all these people are running. And there is a lot of opportunity to modernize that without a big capital expenditure.
With the advent of this mobile technology we have, it's very easy and simple to integrate those mobile technologies on top of this existing legacy systems or systems that could be 10 or 20 years old. And still get a really, really good productivity improvement out of this whole setup. The retailer or the distributor, especially, they are a big retailer, big distributor that are having 10 or 20 distribution centers all over the U.S., there is no reason to spend tens of millions of dollars and overhaul the supply chain completely. There is no reason to do that at all.
Instead, they would get their best bang for the buck to deploy the latest mobile technology on top of this legacy system, and completely bury the system...still have a really nice U/I and U/X for these users that are walking through the DC. I mean, not only for the young people including the veteran operators in the supply chain.
And same thing. People are a lot more used to watching YouTube videos now. If you ask a young worker that's working in DC, "Hey..." if you ask him to learn a tie, they don't ask their parents or they don't ask somebody else. They go to YouTube and then watch the video on how to tie a tie.
All those things can be leveraged in the supply chain...in this technology setup. And we can create a lot of value by leveraging this technology without doing a rip and replace with all these systems that are helping us run this whole gamut of things.
Of course, it needs to be provided such that from a security perspective, from a privacy perspective, from an enterprise perspective, it integrates really well and there is no jeopardy in terms of...I mean, especially retailers are a lot more sensitive because of the credit card theft and things like that happen. So we've got to do all that in an enterprise fashion.
So if we do that, there is a lot of value to gain from the whole thing without completely overhauling the supply chain systems.
Emerging Technologies in Labor Training
Interviewer: To wrap things up, I kind of wanted to touch on emerging technologies. Stuff that's maybe not here yet, but is coming a few years down the line. And what should managers start to think about in terms of how they're gonna be directing, where they're gonna be directing their technology strategy moving forward during that time period?
Puga: Great, great question. To be honest with you, we are really not doing that very well from a supply chain execution, from a distribution/central management perspective because the general culture is "Hey, no, risk-averse," right?
I think two big opportunities and the emerging trend that will add value in supply chain is one is augmented reality, and the other one is virtual reality. I think what's going to happen is augmented reality is going to make people super smart. Because today, warehouse managers are walking around the distribution center with their notepads, and you know, sometimes, some folks have iPads and the tablets, too. They're looking at the metrics of the employees, productivity metrics, shipments, outstanding orders, outstanding...they need to ship shipments that need to be received, any exceptions, messed up locations, cycle count exceptions, and things like that.
So I think what's going to happen is, the future, they're going to have much more intelligent AR glasses. They'll just wear...I mean, it's exactly like the "Terminator" movie. I don't know if you remember the bar scene in the "Terminator" movie where...I think it's Arnold Schwarzenegger. He would walk in and then the glass would scan every single person, and then it would provide information right away.
Interviewer: Yes, I definitely do remember that. It's actually a really...if you think about that, that was over almost 15 years ago now. And we're only getting to that right in the real world at this time, or we're on the verge of that.
Puga: Exactly. So that's exactly what's gonna happen. So I'll be a warehouse manager, I'll wear my AR glasses, and then I'll walk across the aisles. I'll be able to see all the red flags popping up. "Hey, this location doesn't have enough inventory. I need a replenishment there." And then "Hey, this forklift needs maintenance right away." So it needs to go to the maintenance shop. And then I walk further, "Hey, this shipment was delayed and it showed up only now, and I already have an order that's been delayed for... ten hours or something, right?” And things like that.
So that's one thing I could see that's gonna make a big impact in the warehouse. I mean, there are vision-picking systems that are coming up. I think they are still yet to reach their full potential. Augmented reality could add a lot of value to a warehouse manager, make his life easier in terms of understanding what he needs to pay attention, or what he needs to work on right, right? That's one part.
And I think the second technology could be the virtual reality one. That would make training so much easier. You could very easily simulate real training environments, either driving a forklift or driving a truck, for that matter. Or doing any specialized, sophisticated task in a warehouse environment, all simulated. And people are fully trained on that before they embark on the real execution of the task. I think those two have pretty good potential in the warehouse space to make things better.
Interviewer: Puga, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. I very much appreciate your insights and I know the audience does as well.
Puga: Thank you very much for the opportunity and it’s a pleasure to be on this podcast.
To learn more about labor training and management from Puga Sankara and other supply chain experts, check out our recent labor management white paper.