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Preparing your employees for Industry 4.0

17 September 2018 / by Don White, VP Enterprise Solutions for Snapfulfil North America

There’s no question the warehouse is facing a massive digital shift. With the introduction of new technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and robotics, we’re ushering in a new age of fulfillment in the warehouse – Industry 4.0. 

However, as more companies move to automation-friendly technologies, do we risk leaving our employees behind? While many fear that automation will replace people in the warehouse, the statistics suggest otherwise. For example, since adopting hundreds of Kiva robots to streamline rote tasks, Amazon has added 80,000 warehouse employees in the U.S., with no plans to slow down. The jobs aren’t vanishing; they’re evolving. 

It’s time to prepare your employees to embrace new technology as an opportunity, rather than perceive it as a threat. Embracing Industry 4.0 requires clear communication with your employees – and a willingness to help them learn.

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Identify and Communicate Opportunities 

The first step to alleviating employee concern around Industry 4.0 is to recast this transformation as “machine helps man,” rather than “man vs. machine.” IoT and robotics, among other advancements, serve to support human roles in the warehouse, not supplant them. 

Take, for example, data collection and analysis tools such as a best-of-breed warehouse management system (WMS). After a WMS collects your pick, pack and ship process data, it can drive improvements warehouse-wide, helping employees identify which areas of the warehouse needs the most attention and when. However, a WMS doesn’t remove humans from the equation. Instead, it streamlines processes and frees up time to accomplish higher-level tasks. 

Warehouse management technology can also dramatically alleviate the burdens placed on your team during demand spikes. The manufacturing sector is booming, and unemployment is at historic lows; Deloitte predicts that 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will open up over the next 10 years, but as many as 2 million may not be filled. As warehouses struggle to find qualified labor, new technology offers the opportunity to predict demand and streamline warehouse processes to handle the influx of orders and returns. 

Still, for your employees to grasp the true value of these technologies, you must communicate the benefits in a meaningful way. Consider setting up a series of informational sessions or lunch & learns to build an open line of communication between management and your pick, pack and ship team.  

Encourage employee training and professional development 

Communication is crucial when converting your warehouse to Industry 4.0 technologies. However, once your team is onboard, you’ll need to help employees develop new skill sets to manage these advanced solutions. Offering several company training sessions is a great way to show you are investing in people as well as technology; make sure you schedule these meetings at an easily accessible time, and have senior staff on hand to address any concerns. Such events will help increase employee satisfaction and performance as you begin the journey to Industry 4.0. 

Big changes equal big opportunities – for all 

By identifying and communicating the important opportunities afforded by Industry 4.0, you can achieve buy-in from your employees. Encouraging your team through training and development will prepare them for their new roles and demonstrate your desire to invest in their futures. 

With proper planning, communication and investment, you can guide your warehouse – and your employees – into the digital revolution.

 

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