line graph, bar graph, two women looking at data on a computer, large group of people walking and wearing masks in a city, and two males a manager and frontline employee checking on products in a warehouse
December 1, 2021
Employee Experience

Where Did All the Workers Go? Mitigating the 2022 Labor and Supply Chain Crisis

How organizations can solve for worker shortages and gaps in efficiency

“The worker shortage is real – and it’s getting worse by the day.”
-Suzanne Clark, US Chamber of Commerce, President and CEO

The effects of the pandemic continue to impact the transportation and logistics industry and the global supply chain, but both of these issues are only further compounded by the ongoing labor shortage — with some economists predicting it to potentially extend well into 2024.

For consumers, record numbers of employees feeling unfulfilled by their roles and leaving the workforce in what has been coined the Great Resignation, has meant frustrating waits to check out at stores, pick up food or get a restaurant table, make home repairs and renovations – even to get children to school.

In response, many organizations have turned to some unorthodox solutions to make ends meet. Raising Cane’s made the decision to put their corporate staff to work as fry cooks and cashiers amid the staffing shortage. Beyond corporate employees volunteering to take positions in the field, others are depending on teenagers to fill the gap, with one Subway franchisee enlisting the help of his teenage son to combat the shortage.

Despite these novel efforts, the problem persists. 

How do companies work through this challenge? What can data offer to offset the impacts of the labor shortage and assist the organizations that currently don’t have enough workers? How can teams bring a solution to life? Not only that, but how can they entice workers to come to the table? In our experience, survival is dependent on making smarter decisions with the resources and data you have right now, so we’ve compiled some actions organizations can take to find workable solutions to their labor shortage issues faster.

What you can do to address labor shortage issues 

Use data to increase productivity; help workers feel more fulfilled in their roles

A big reason so many individuals left their roles and have been reluctant to return is personal and professional fulfillment. People want careers, not just jobs and are becoming more selective about their work. Luckily, organizations can make use of existing technology and data to provide that fulfillment and empowerment, by making jobs easier and more enjoyable for employees.

white female employee using an chat-bot enabled app on a tablet to help find something on the shelves of the store she works at

As an example, we created an employee-focused app that was intuitive, solved for the most important user questions, and went beyond the scope of the existing consumer-facing app, employees immediately provided more value to consumers because they no longer had to take the time to ask others for assistance, walk away to ask another employee for help, or venture to find a product only to find it was out of stock. Eventually, common, repetitive tasks like item lookup saw a time reduction of 40% with this technology.

By addressing frontline worker needs with critical data and literally putting the solution in their hands, the retailer was able to create empowered, knowledgeable employees and satisfied customers in order to drive company wide-success. ‍At organizations that are succeeding in this space, workers are not just able to take action based on data and insight provided to them; they’re encouraged to go beyond the scope of what their jobs encompassed in the past to operate more autonomously – doing more with less. This should be equally true of your organization.

Improve and leverage supply chain transparency; inventory intelligence

The current labor shortage has only exacerbated the already difficult supply chain crisis. When the retail industry is dependent upon having shelves stock with the right items and the people to stock them, a lack of supply chain visibility is a significant problem.

It’s no wonder Walmart is hired 20,000 'supply chain associates' at $20.37 per hour in addition to 150,000 seasonal employees in 2021 to get ahead of the issue. When companies work towards better data transparency, it reduces the burden on the number of people it takes to analyze and oversee the supply chain. 

Similar can be said of improved inventory intelligence. Fewer employees in the store are required to track products when the data that’s already there can be used to follow a product all the way through from vendor to shelf and beyond. If retailers are to be forced to do more with less in terms of their workforce, it’s imperative they use the data they have to mitigate supply chain woes, since they are directly impacted by labor shortage issues – more on that here.

Optimize and automate to give bandwidth back to employees

The same frontline data initiatives that spur productivity can also help employees cut through the noise to see real time insights, reduce silos, and eliminate drains on resources. This provides more bandwidth to all employees to assist in other areas or even up-skill in an effort to expand their role and drive fulfillment. It also allows for retail store managers to be available on the floor. By putting the tools in their hands that automates management of their workforce, optimizes inventory, and more, they can stay away from backroom computers where they need to input information into multiple systems.

As another example, one of the world’s largest retailers historically had a very manual process of identifying, managing, and delegating the critical, day-to-day tasks required to keep their stores running smoothly. They took this manual process and automated it, which allowed all store leaders and employees to collaborate much more efficiently.

Drive up, pick-up, BOPIS, and other more automated forms of check-out are a huge game changer in this space as well because they reduce the amount of team members and the size of the footprint necessary to complete the task. The real question then becomes how do you encourage or otherwise incentivize and entice workers and consumers alike to embrace the technology?

Support; don’t replace workers with tech, and make meaningful improvements to EX

It’s understandable that undertaking large-scale changes to wages or employee experience (EX) isn’t necessarily possible for all organizations, especially right now. Not every retailer can hire their own supply chain associates like Walmart has, or have their corporate staff work alongside their frontline like Raising Cane’s while also investing $70 million in those same workers, but companies can and must do what they can to improve employee experience – the conversation around the issue doesn’t have to simply boil down to higher wages or hire robots

In one case, a Florida restaurant owner enlisted the help of a robot, Servi, not to eliminate jobs, but to act as a personal assistant to his employees. The robot helped prevent burnout by saving wait staff and bussers from having to run back and forth to the kitchen and let overworked servers have more time with customers and serve more tables, leading to higher tips.

What’s important to note is that the dialog has shifted. What once was “We don’t want to replace people with technology” has developed into “We want to help our employees so they can be a better customer service rep, can improve customer experience, etc.” The narrative has shifted to be more focused around risk.

As such, getting data behind EX to determine how it can be improved to both retain current employees and incentivize new individuals to join will be invaluable. Sure, it may reveal that more competitive wages or better benefits are one of the few surefire options available, and that will be something that your organization will need to address, but creating tools that solve for pain points and address EX in this way is imperative.

Wrapping up

It takes time for organizations to stand up and build out all of these capabilities on their own, and it can be frustrating – but the time is now. Using technology and your existing data to empower employees, make them feel more fulfilled in their roles, while also increasing productivity and reducing silos, and making operations more transparent and effective is the way forward.

Learn how we can help you get to a prototype in 90 days or less.

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RevUnit is a technology studio that helps supply chain clients identify and implement data solutions that actually prove ROI. We help organizations across industries like transportation, freight, logistics, retail, and manufacturing achieve business results through innovative data solutions — powered by AI/ML and the cloud. We’ve done it for clients like ArcBest, J.B. Hunt, and Walmart.

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