4 Common Problems in Warehouse Operations and How to Solve Them

Last Updated: November 19, 2018
 

Currently, warehousing operations jobs are at a ten-year high, having more than doubled since 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s a promising figure for all levels of warehousing professionals, from the novices to the veterans. With e-commerce and its requisite need for high-demand fulfillment needs also at an all-time high, it also spells great news for job security within the field.

But, just because warehouse operations jobs are as plentiful as they’ve been in a generation, doesn’t mean that it’s all good news. As new technology continues to be integrated and introduced faster than it can be mastered, in some instances, it is inevitable for logistical issues to arise, including complex personnel management matters, unpredictable peak planning, tricky safety scenarios, and more.

Today, we will take a closer look at the common challenges experienced in warehouse operations and, most importantly, how you can best repair them–or, even skirt them in the first place. We will examine why:

  1. Your supply chain is suffering a communication breakdown
  2. You’re never really ready for unexpected fulfillment spikes
  3. Your warehouse associate retention rates are weak
  4. Your safety protocol is compromising your operation’s livelihood

Now that you’ve gotten a taste of the challenges that today’s warehouse operations face, it’s time to delve into the solutions:

1. Your supply chain is suffering a communication breakdown

If that’s the case and your current goal is to best your fulfillment rates and rein in your quality control, it’s time that you strategize your end-to-end visibility. According to the experts at Supply Chain 247, you can improve your visibility by investing in cloud-based solutions that help “capture, report, and leverage important benchmarking data and provide insight into supply chain performance.”

Upon integrating one of these systems, even a rudimentary warehouse management system (WMS) should yield instantly higher visibility. Once installed, take the time to develop the internal processes necessary to properly examine the automated reports. Encourage all necessary parties to routinely assess the benchmarks, particularly when it comes to shifts in inventory and quality.

When targeting customer engagement, consider investing in a customer relationship management system (CRM), a software that handles everything from leads to customer data storage, and beyond. Forbes states that, for e-commerce operations with “shorter sales cycle and high repeat sales,” CRMs are a no-brainer. These days, installing them is simple; most integrate with your existing systems, and they do a whole lot of good when it comes to rounding out the communication within your supply chain.

2. You’re never really ready for unexpected fulfillment spikes

Even the greenest warehouse associate can tell you that operations tend to get busiest around the holidays, but even the most experienced operations managers struggle to keep things running smoothly during times of unexpected fulfillment spikes. While, 20 years ago this problem could be fixed, at least some of the way, by hiring seasonal or temporary workers, today’s automation options provide a much more stable cushion.

In an article published by Logistics Magazine, Mike Khodl, vice president of solution development for Dematic, promotes the use of lightweight automation that can easily be integrated during peaks and scaled back during quieter times. He says that these cutting-edge solutions, such as pick-to-light, serve as more flexible answers to the permanent conveyor system, for example. “We’re not bolting a lot of automation to the floor for peak,” Khodl says. “Instead, we’re relying on software to manage inventory, orders and enable picking.”

3. Your warehouse associate retention rates are weak

Recently, we provided you with insider insight on the warehouse industry’s embarrassingly low retention rate. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 25,000 more warehouse employees had quit their positions in 2017 when compared to the data analyzed from 2016. Inevitably, with a simple Google search, you will be met with a variety of answers explaining away this phenomenon, but focusing in on excuses won’t help you with your personnel problem as a whole.

Instead, take a deep dive into the factors that might be negatively impacting your retention rate. The best way to do this is to create a culture that allows for back-and-forth. Studies show that more than half of warehouse associates are willing to jump ship for as little as a $1/hour raise. Unless you’re willing and able to pay more than the rest of the warehouses in your area, you must keep these workers happy. You can get a better feel of their grievances by following these steps:

  1. Creating questionnaires focused on morale
  2. Conducting interviews with associates working in a variety of divisions
  3. Assessing your organizational records for trends in absenteeism, poor performance, official grievances, etc.

Even if this process doesn’t improve your retention rate immediately, it will give you a better sense of your most productive workers and their personal goals as they move up in the company.

4. Your safety protocol is compromising your operation’s livelihood

Did you know that warehousing holds one of the highest worker injury and fatality rates in the nation? If you take your time to flip through the pages of OSHA’s up-to-date Fatality Inspection Data, you’ll quickly notice examples of the tragic trend. Although warehouses are filled with heavy machinery as part of a highly-physical work environment, it doesn’t mean injury or even death is inevitable; there absolutely are ways you can keep your workers, your inventory, and your operation safe.

Start by ensuring that your facility is in full compliance with all safety standards, especially after introducing new infrastructure, no matter how minuscule it may seem. Next, have your associates read OSHA’s Worker Safety Series: Warehousing. In it, they will find important safety info on everything from warehouse orientation to proper licensing procedures, accident reporting protocol, and beyond.

The first step to achieving a balanced warehouse operation is admitting your faults. Assess all points and solutions on this list, then determine your other weak areas. Remember, you cannot improve your operation’s problems until you identify them.


Angela Stringfellow

Angela Stringfellow is a writer with 10+ years of experience. She focuses on news, trends, and insights in marketing, business, and technology.

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