By Michael Gravier ·
December 4, 2019
We are on the cusp of major challenges in labor, and supply chain managers should prepare. The economy has created a record number of jobs and unemployment is at nearly the lowest it can be, yet too many workers aren’t benefiting. Here are a few of the problems that have impacted supply chain workers from warehouses to truck driving to IT infrastructure and beyond:
There has been near-record job creation, yet too many of the new jobs have lower salaries compared to past eras of prosperity.
Some companies that have grown rapidly have leveraged “gig economy” technologies that have bypassed traditional employment relationships, leaving workers without healthcare and other important benefits and protections.
Automation is taking good jobs away from the least educated, pushing them into lower-paying jobs.
The stubborn issue of salaries lagging for women and minorities doesn’t seem to improve substantially.
The widening of the wealth gap combined with trends like increasing lack of affordable housing decreases motivation for both those seeking work and those already in jobs, especially jobs that may be susceptible to automation or down-sizing.
Secondary education continues to lag when it comes to teaching modern skills and technology, and not enough colleges offer programs to meet demand for supply chain and technology workers.
Workers are already using technology to find “side hustles” to supplement low incomes. Some women have turned to the gig economy and freelancing as a way to receive equal salaries for equal work. There’s also the start of a trend to pursue online personal studies rather than invest in a college degree. Workers remaining in companies demand better work-life balance such as the ability to telecommute and increased autonomy, as well as a clear path to self-improvement and career advancement.
Companies are using technology to pair artificial intelligence and robots with workers in order to achieve productivity unparalleled in history. Data indicates that, overall, robots actually increase demand for workers, and the jobs in general pay well. Many companies increasingly pay for training or have established in-house “universities” with both in-class and online programs—investing in workers’ sense of fulfillment and self-betterment is the most effective way to increase their productivity and loyalty. Companies have also experimented with using artificial intelligence to remove bias from hiring, and to identify ways to help increase employee mobility so they can afford to move to better opportunities in an environment of high housing prices and child care costs.
The genie is out of the bottle when it comes to technology redefining labor, for both the workers and companies. Labor looks to be another frontier for competition, and one that has already begun to redefine industry. An old saying, “There are a thousand ways to do exactly as you’re told,” should remind supply chain leaders that workers are the most powerful ally in any supply chain, and this will be especially true over the next year.
December 4, 2019
About the Author
Michael Gravier is a Professor of Marketing and Supply Chain Management at Bryant University with a focus on logistics, supply chain management and strategy and international trade. Follow Bryant University on Facebook and Twitter.
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