Make better use of your employees

The supply chain industry faces a severe employment crisis, and it is only expected to get worse.

Becky Willard

Seasoned workers are retiring, and it has been a challenge to replace them. Contributing to this is the overall poor perception of supply chain jobs by millennials, and companies being slow to embrace diversity in their ranks.

With the number of available candidates dwindling, it is crucial that companies find ways to get the best value from the people they already employ.

For you to get more value from your employees, consider adopting these 10 recommendations:

• Invest in training. Training can help an employee perform better at his or her current job, and position the employee to take on new, higher-value tasks. This results in a guaranteed way to get more value from your staff. As an added bonus, this can improve employee morale and the company bottom line.

• Reassess knowledge, talent and experience. Likely, some workers have skills or knowledge that have been overlooked. Regular reassessment can uncover volunteer experience, education or even past work experience that could be valuable within your organization.

• Flexibility through a “fluid” workforce. Inflexible work schedules are one of the top reasons employees leave a company. Turnover in staff puts more pressure on and adds inefficiencies to existing staff. Cross-training allows for greater flexibility, easing the burden of employee absenteeism and peak production periods. On the biggest shipping day of the year, will your office and support staff be able to get the product out the door? Be creative and nontraditional in your approach.

• Reduce exceptions. Many times an incident is only a symptom of a bigger issue, and gets resolved rather than identifying the core problem. Without correcting the core problem, it is likely your staff will have to respond to repeated exceptions. For example, if the data for an item is wrong, causing frequent repackaging, have a plan in place to fix the core problem as soon as it is discovered.

• Avoid unnecessary tasks. Implement a vendor compliance program. Require vendors to comply with required packaging, labeling and electronic transmissions. This will help to prevent nonvalue time being spent by staff relabeling or repackaging received products. Quality checks can ensure compliance and accuracy.

• Task-level process improvement. Look at each task and make it as efficient as possible. For example, set up packing stations to allow for tasks to be done with minimal walking, and assure necessary materials are always at hand to minimize delays caused by restocking.

• Macro-level process re-engineering. Take a step back to look at original inputs into a process or ultimate downstream outputs. This gives you an opportunity to identify more efficiencies and bring more value to your existing staff. An example may include having vendors fulfill customer orders directly.

• Automate through software. Find efficiencies through automation of information. Efficiencies will free your staff to work on more valuable tasks. Avoid maintaining information in multiple places, and consider automating reports now being assembled manually.

• Automate through robotics and material-handling equipment. Using the right automation and other equipment can improve the value of production staff through increased efficiencies.

• Rethink facility layout. Place people-intensive activities closer to locker rooms, restrooms and the cafeteria. This saves valuable time in getting to and from these areas and back to tasks.

Most of these suggestions can be implemented at a low cost with high potential for payoff.

Becky Willard operates Beacon Grace LLC, a supply chain technology and professional consulting firm located in the Technical Innovation Center at Hagerstown Community College. For more information, go to or call 240-329-9400.