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MHI SOLUTIONS COMMUNITY: Tips for Staffing the Automated Distribution Center

* By John Paxton *

Rupesh Narkar offers a silver lining for parents who are sick of seeing their kids’ eyes glued to their smartphones, tablets and video games: That comfort with new technology will make them ideal candidates for the warehouse and distribution center jobs of the present and the future, so in a sense, some of them are preparing for their careers.

Narkar, the director of sales in production intralogistics for MHI member Swisslog Logistics Inc., said that as distribution centers become increasingly automated, the repetitive tasks performed by employees will be shifted onto the automated system, and employees who are comfortable with touchscreens, digital displays and control systems will have a leg up in the automated workplace.

“When you have an automation system, usually you have to divide your staff between technical and nontechnical warehouse operators,” he said. “The technical operators are responsible for keeping the automated systems running, and the nontechnical operators are responsible for finishing up the tasks that are not part of the automated system, such as final packaging.

“When you take away the monotonous, non-value-adding tasks from employees, now they have the additional bandwidth to get trained on more technical skills to take care of the automated systems, so it’s kind of a reassignment of their time for more value-adding tasks.”

With online sales booming and the unemployment rate near historic lows, distribution centers are finding it difficult to staff their facilities and respond to increased demand. That lack of resources was identified as one of the top barriers to implementing new technologies when the Solutions Community conducted a poll of 75 members at the most recent MHI Annual Conference.

I spoke with Narkar and two other MHI Solutions Community members about the best strategy for staffing the automated distribution center, and they offered the following tips…

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There is no silver bullet to building a workforce that can thrive in this new digital environment. It takes leadership, collaboration, innovative talent sourcing, continuous training and improvement. This issue of MHI Solutions focuses on this important topic from the technologies driving changing skill sets to industry-academia collaboration to how to hire, retain and develop the digital supply chain workforce.

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