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MHIA-funded research reports on the distribution workforce and technology acceptance

Study reveals how worker-centric workplaces attract, train, and retain high quality personnel
By Modern Materials Handling Staff
December 21, 2010

The Material Handling Industry of America’s (MHIA) second year of direct funding of materials handling and logistics research has resulted in the completion of a study on the “State of the Distribution Workforce and What It Means for the Material Handling Industry,” by Bryan Edwards of Oklahoma State University (OSU) and Kevin Gue of Auburn University. The $53,000 research grant was provided by MHIA through its College Industry Council on Material Handling Education (CICMHE).

The purpose of the study was to determine the factors that influence attitudes, performance, turnover, and technology acceptance. It examined the factors that affect worker turnover, satisfaction, commitment, and performance. It also examined how the adoption of new technology is influenced by the acceptance and training to use the technology.

The researchers found that employees were generally satisfied across all job categories. They also discovered that job satisfaction and intent to leave the organization were associated with change, uncertainty, social isolation, coping mechanisms, and adaptability. Historically, only technological solutions were applied to labor shortages and demographic shifts. This research demonstrates that there are other key variables and potential interventions that could help attract and retain qualified employees with benefits for the bottom line.

The research also indicated that employees appreciated technology once it was in place, but found the initial process of technology implementation stressful. Employees enjoyed the automation and work autonomy that technology provided, but raised concerns regarding the communication process during implementation and their ability to assimilate the training required to use the new technology.

The researchers used both qualitative and quantitative techniques by using focus groups with employees and workplace observations at distribution centers across the United States. The findings from these activities were used to develop two surveys to learn more about the causes of satisfaction and dissatisfaction in distribution centers, the jobs of material handlers, and the general work environment in distribution centers. The first survey was completed by managers at participating distribution centers to evaluate the jobs of material handlers and the work environments at their distribution centers. The second survey was completed by employees at the distribution centers and included measures of job attitudes, perceptions of the work environment, change in the distribution center, social isolation from the company and their colleagues) and behavioral intentions.

The research project supported and developed two graduate students who plan to continue conducting research within the material handling industry. Kristin Cullen, M.S., is a Ph.D. student in her final year at Auburn University in industrial/organizational psychology. She was funded in the fall 2009, spring 2010, and summer 2010. Kristin served as the project coordinator. Wm. Camron Casper, SPHR, was funded in the summer 2010 and is a 2nd-year student in the Management Ph.D. program at OSU.

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