The State of the Distribution Workforce and What It Means for the Material Handling Industry
The 2007 Material Handling Logistics Summit identified a number of important initiatives for the Material Handling Industry. In 2009-2010, the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA) and the College Industry Council on Material Handling Education (CICMHE) funded this research project to address three of the major summit initiatives:
- Creation of workplaces of excellence through worker-centric distribution center design.
- Improvement of companies’ ability to attract, recruit, educate, train, and retain high-quality personnel.
- Development of lasting industry and academia collaborations.
Our project team used both qualitative and quantitative techniques to obtain initial information vital to researching the objectives. Specifically, we gathered information to understand:
- the daily work experience of material handlers
- the general work environment in distribution centers
- the causes of satisfaction and dissatisfaction in distribution centers
- employees’ reactions to technology implementation.
Based on our findings, we can make several suggestions that can help increase satisfaction and reduce uncertainty and turnover in distribution centers. These suggestions may not work in every DC, nor are we suggesting that all of them be implemented. Instead, these are some things that worked quite well in the DCs that participated in our study. Detailed descriptions of these recommendations and the research study can be found in our final report.
- Provide multiple formal training opportunities.
- Implement cross-training and/or job rotation.
- Create opportunities for social interaction (i.e., lunches/breaks, company functions, acknowledge birthdays once per month).
- Focus the organization’s attention on providing organizational support. Examples of support are
- Supervisors/managers provide frequent developmental feedback
- Provide opportunities for employees to voice opinions
- Provide adequate resources (e.g., equipment, time)
- Reward good performance
- Communicate that the employees are a valuable part of the company
- Develop better communication between employees and management.
- When implementing new technology provide:
- information to employees early and often to reduce uncertainty;
- opportunities for employee input in the adoption and implementation phases;
- additional training opportunities related to using the new technology.
- Design the job to increase task variety, task significance, autonomy, and feedback.