Manufacturing and warehouse shift work has been standard procedure since the dawn of the industrial revolution. And, shift work remains the standard in many cases today. It’s been about 120 years since this practice began.

Does it really make sense today, considering what’s changed in manufacturing since then? In this time, we’ve seen the introduction of pallets, forklifts, barcodes, inventory management systems, the Toyota Production System, cross-docking, and omni-channel retailing, just to name a few. And yet, even today most operators manually build out weekly schedules based on 8-hour or 12-hour shifts, focused on consistent worker schedules and not necessarily aligned to warehouse activity. To date, there’s been limited adoption of strategic workforce planning strategies or automated employee scheduling in this industry.

A Common Misalignment In Resources

With little exception, the hour-by-hour happenings in production and distribution are not consistent. The same number of trucks don’t arrive every hour on the hour to be unloaded. The same products don’t get produced, packed or shipped every hour of the day, every day. There are peak hours for loading or unloading trucks, hot loads that need immediate processing, and downtime when there’s just not as much work to do. With standard shift work, there are hours when there’s not enough labor to get everything done, and other times when there’s more staff on the clock than what’s needed. Not the most efficient use of resources, is it?

The Case For Strategic Workforce Planning

In virtually every other aspect of the supply chain, we’ve come to realize that strategic demand planning is essential. It helps reduce costs, improve collaboration and visibility, and provide the ability to predict and respond to disruption early. So why hasn’t this concept been more widely adopted for strategic workforce planning? Some might argue that workers prefer stable work schedules, but a recent study by EmployBridge proved just the opposite is true. 73% of blue color workers would trade a $1.00 per hour raise for a more flexible work schedule. One way to retain employees, especially in today’s tight labor market, is to give them more control over when they work.

What Are Some Benefits That Can Be Achieved?

Blue Yonder’s strategic workforce planning and workforce management (WFM) helps businesses align labor resources to operational requirements to drive down costs while improving associate engagement. It uses demand forecasting to automatically generate weekly schedules that are tightly aligned with required staff levels. All local and federal laws and regulations are preconfigured into the calculation, so there’s no risk of labor violations. Schedules are based on associate availability and shift preferences, which helps reduce call-outs and absenteeism. The system also optimizes fixed schedules for the full-timers so that workers who prefer flexibility and those who prefer consistency can both get what they want.  

It also provides insights into future labor needs so to get ahead of any potential gaps before they occur.  The system analyzes demand trends, business strategy and budget to create a 12-month labor forecast. This identifies cross-training and recruitment opportunities, and strategic workforce planning balances individual labor plans across the organization so every site reaches its potential without over-burdening or underutilizing its workforce.

To appeal to today’s employees, the solution also provides maximum flexibility. “Blank” weekly schedules can be created, meaning all shifts are defined but no names are assigned. Workers simply opt-in to the shifts they want. Blue Yonder’s WFM also provides mobile self-service tools where associates can request swaps, select additional shifts, and request time off. When Associated Food Stores (AFS) adopted Blue Yonder’s WFM for their warehouses, they experienced lower turnover and an overall reduction in labor costs. Why it’s important to get workforce planning right

It’s no secret that today’s supply chains are strained — everything from computer chips to chicken wings have been impacted with supply shortages. And some of this strain is a direct impact from labor shortages. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) measured factory employment at a six-month low with 50% of companies having difficulty in trying to hire new workers. One way to attract and retain quality employees is by empowering them with flexible scheduling and mobile self-service tools.

To learn more about Blue Yonder’s strategic workforce planning capabilities for distribution and manufacturing, download our latest brochure, watch the video overview or visit our website.