Warehouse labor constraints continue to plague many companies, impacting production levels and causing delivery delays. With a 49% turnover rate in the sector last year, businesses are straining to attract and retain talent.
Those looking to secure talent should expand their hiring pools and offer potential workers opportunities to learn new skills or advance in their careers, experts say.
“Competition for talent at the entry level is significant right now,” said Abe Eshkenazi, CEO of the Association for Supply Chain Management. “I’m not sure there’s one silver bullet. You’ve got to give [workers] something more than just pay.”
Part of the problem in securing warehouse workers is that the jobs often suffer a reputation as boring, dirty and physically taxing. But that’s often not the case — many warehouses are far more technologically advanced than most people think, said Susan Boylan, senior director analyst at Gartner.
“They have very smart infrastructure that rely on a lot of technology, but the prevailing image is a dusty old warehouse,” she said.
Showcasing how smart technology enables warehouses can spur more interest from potential employees, particularly if companies can show clear upward career mobility for people that work with the technology, Eshkenazi said.
The technology itself can provide more opportunities for those who may not initially believe they’re qualified for warehouse work, he added. Tools like remote operated forklifts and exoskeleton co-bots could make warehouse jobs possible for older and disabled workers.
“If you think of the population we’re currently working with, we need to open up the aperture in terms of diversity and inclusion and what different people with different competencies can contribute to the organization,” said Eshkenazi.
Advance Auto, for example, has hired more than 360 workers who have autism or are hearing impaired for its warehouses, distribution centers and other supply chain roles through a disability inclusion program.
“This is a great, largely untapped resource for talent out there, and with everybody needing that talent, it just makes sense,” said James Emmitt, owner of consulting firm James Emmett & Company, which helps employers launch disability inclusion programs. “It makes sense for your company, it makes sense for your community, to really lean in and find that talent wherever you can right now. … We’re nowhere close to done.”
“If you think of the population we’re currently working with, we need to open up the aperture in terms of diversity and inclusion and what different people with different competencies can contribute to the organization."
CEO, Association for Supply Chain Management
Companies can combat the notion that warehouse jobs are terminal careers by providing clear opportunities for workers to advance. A February 2022 Gartner report found that 81% of workers want to find opportunities to learn skills that will be useful to their jobs, but only 42% said they were easy to find.
“No one wants a dead end job anywhere they work, so offering skills upgrades and training” can go a long way, said Elissa Jessup, HR knowledge advisor at the Society for Human Resource Management.
Entry level workers should be given opportunities to explore other opportunities within the organization, according to Boylan. That could be interacting with tools like robots or wearables, as well as learning about augmented reality and digital twins. Employees can also be offered the chance to learn back office skills, should they find they want to transition into other roles, she added.
Companies should keep close tabs on their workers to know both why employees leave a role as well as why they choose to join the organization, Jessup said. While exit interviews are helpful, businesses can also conduct surveys of new hires to learn why they wanted a particular job. They can also do “stay interviews” to find out why employees remain in their post and what could keep them in the future.
By doing so, managers can “be engaged with their employees and help to provide them a meaningful work environment,” she said.
Overall, companies should understand that retention is not always about money. When Boylan was working for a perishable food market in Ireland, she found that she couldn’t convince workers to take on added overtime during peak seasons because additional pay pushed them into a higher tax bracket.
She surveyed employees and found that they most highly valued time at home with their families. So instead of higher pay, the company offered additional time off around employee holidays.
“Obviously you can’t be everything to everyone all of the time,” Boylan said. “But you can deliver that to the best of your ability.”