The questions you’ve always wanted to ask about the changing role of human operators in materials handling and the skills that industries will need in the future

At Yale, we pride ourselves on our ability to listen to the industries we work with, and we provide expert advice along with leading materials handling solutions designed to meet specific needs or solve common problems. In this blog post, we’ve pulled together some of the questions we are asked about changes in the materials handling skillset as industries automate and innovate. Get in touch if you think there’s anything we’ve missed.

Q: As automation and digitisation transform the materials handling industry, will people be replaced by machines?
A: No, that’s a common misconception. The interface between people and machines is the most important factor to consider when successfully adopting emerging technologies.

Q: How will emerging technologies affect people’s jobs in the future?
A: The way people interact with machines will change, meaning that they will need new skillsets, particularly with a digital technology focus.

Q: What are the key emerging technologies disrupting the materials handling industry?
A: The Internet of Things, mobile connectivity, advanced robotics, autonomous vehicles and Big Data.

Q: Why have these technologies suddenly become so important?
A: Supply chain managers are under constant pressure to drive out costs from the supply chain while at the same time increasing service levels. The convergence of technologies that interact with each other and with people gives companies an opportunity for competitive advantage by building seamlessly-integrated digital solutions, and even automating processes.

Q: How are these technologies disrupting traditional supply chain models?
A: Supply chain managers are combining the power of these technologies to create ‘smart’ supply chains – integrated, intelligent systems that allow end-to-end visibility, better management of complex globalised supply chains and near real-time responsiveness to ever-changing consumer demands.

Q: What sort of skills will be valuable in the smart supply chain?
A: The smart supply chain will fundamentally change the way people manage it and work within it. It will require a multi-skilled, flexible tech-savvy workforce, where managers can interpret analytics, think strategically and work collaboratively.

Q: What are the implications for talent resourcing?
A: It will likely exacerbate the skills crisis already straining the industry. Managers will need to develop unique, creative solutions to attract, retain and engage employees with valuable skills.

Q: Materials handling struggles against other industries to attract talent. What measures can managers take to overcome that challenge?
A: Take a multi-generational approach, where there is a focus on constant development through training and education. This will improve the skillsets of older, low-skilled workers, and allow older highly-skilled workers due to retire to pass on their knowledge to millennials hungry for skills and progression.

Q: Millennials are notoriously fickle. How do you discourage them from job-hopping?
A: As well as giving them clear development goals, make sure they have a degree of flexibility to customise their roles around their skillsets, personal needs and interests, career goals and social values. This may well require a fundamental change in your workplace environment, culture and behaviours.

Q: In a growing industry with a skills shortage, retaining employees will be difficult. How best to increase retention?
A: Employee engagement is the key factor here, which goes beyond offering good development opportunities to ensuring employees have the right tools to do their jobs effectively. Ergonomics is very important. Equipment should be designed with the end-user in mind – comfortable, easy to use and customisable.

Read on for more answers to the challenges of hiring and retaining people with the right materials handling skills for an ever-changing future. Download our free eGuide Driving continuous improvement in materials handling in the paper industry: The human touch