MMH    Topics     News

Think differently about the talent shortage

Latest Material Handling News

I’m at a materials handling conference – the 30th annual Material Handling & Logistics Conference sponsored by Dematic in Park City, Utah – and yet, nearly every session I’ve attended has referenced the challenges associated with recruiting and retaining the people needed to run our facilities.

And the talent shortage doesn’t come up just at this event. A few weeks ago, I received a call from a plant manager in Wisconsin who complained that he is in a constant struggle to get enough people who are willing to show up at 7 and work until 3 to man the assembly line.

Yet, we heard this morning from Stuart Varney, the host of Varney & Company on the FOX News Channel, that the labor participation rate stands at just 62.6%, the lowest rate in 38 years. The participation rate is a measure of the share of Americans at least 16 years old who are employed or actively looking for work.

Clearly, there’s a disconnect somewhere – one that I’m at a loss to explain. The dismal labor percentage rate is a real number. At the same time, the fact that business is struggling to find the right people with the skills to staff their available positions, from the shop floor to the top floor, is also real and not just an anecdote. 

What’s more, the talent shortage is only likely to get worse because of demographics – as Varney pointed out, each woman of childbearing age needs to have 2.1 children just for us to keep our population even without immigration, and the birthrate in the U.S. is currently 1.9 children per woman. Believe it or not, America is doing better than most of the developed world.

The impact on our industry is pretty stark: We need more people than ever to pick orders, load trucks and deliver those orders at the same time as fewer people are willing to work in our facilities, and demographics tells us that there will be even fewer of us available in the future.

So what can we do about it, short of being fruitful and multiplying?

One thing is already underway, which is a full court press by industry associations like MHI and MSSC, industry leaders like Target and academia to raise the profile of the industry and provide training for positions in our industry.

Another, suggested to me by Marc Wulfraat, the founder of MWPVL International, is for those of us in the U.S. to think differently about automation. We need, he suggests, to take a European view of our facilities.

“European countries have had a lower birth rate than the US for some time now,” Wulfraat says. “In addition, they have a high cost of labor and land is scarce. Those demographics are now coming to the US.”

He adds that he’s been visiting highly-automated facilities in Europe for the last three years and has seen a number of solutions. “In Europe, they design for automation first and if it doesn’t work, they look for a manual solution,” he says. “That’s the opposite of the way we do it here.”

Perhaps, if we shift that paradigm and look to automation first, we can begin to address some of the demographic issue.

Article Topics

   All topics

News & Resources

Latest in Materials Handling

Mitsubishi Logisnext Americas group celebrates 10th anniversary of National Forklift Safety Day
Services economy activity grows again in May, reports ISM
Autonomous mobile robot provider MiR marks its 10th anniversary
Hy-Tek Intralogistics and Hai Robotics announce partnership
KPI Solutions expands with a new Atlanta office
Manufacturing declines for the seventh straight month in May, says ISM
National Forklift Safety Day coming up on June 13
More Materials Handling

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock's avatar
Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock is the editorial director for Modern Materials Handling and an editorial advisor to Supply Chain Management Review. He has covered materials handling, technology, logistics, and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. He is a graduate of Bowling Green State University. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at 603-357-0484.
Follow Modern Materials Handling on FaceBook

Subscribe to Materials Handling Magazine

Subscribe today!
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
Subscribe today. It's FREE.
Find out what the world's most innovative companies are doing to improve productivity in their plants and distribution centers.
Start your FREE subscription today.

May 2023 Modern Materials Handling

An iconic American brand is partnering with DHL Supply Chain to build out a network to meet soaring demand. It’s also turning to flexible automation to optimize operations.

Latest Resources

Why Should You Deploy Autonomous Mobile Robots on the Factory Floor?
For managing material handling needs specifically, many manufacturers are deploying Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) to improve efficiency and productivity.
Warehouse Insights: Tackling Space in Micro-fulfillment
AutoStore: The Right Technology & The Right Integrator
More resources

Latest Resources

2023 Automation Study: Usage & Implementation of Warehouse/DC Automation Solutions
2023 Automation Study: Usage & Implementation of Warehouse/DC Automation Solutions
This research was conducted by Peerless Research Group on behalf of Modern Materials Handling to assess usage and purchase intentions forautomation systems...
How Your Storage Practices Can Affect Your Pest Control Program
How Your Storage Practices Can Affect Your Pest Control Program
Discover how your storage practices could be affecting your pest control program and how to prevent pest infestations in your business. Join...

Warehousing Outlook 2023
Warehousing Outlook 2023
2023 is here, and so are new warehousing trends.
Extend the Life of Brownfield Warehouses
Extend the Life of Brownfield Warehouses
Today’s robotic and data-driven automation systems can minimize disruptions and improve the life and productivity of warehouse operations.
Power Supply in Overhead Cranes: Energy Chains vs. Festoons
Power Supply in Overhead Cranes: Energy Chains vs. Festoons
Download this white paper to learn more about how both systems compare.