Warehouse Fulfillment – Labor Challenges & Solutions 

by Nate Aswege
May 31, 2022

Among all the processes inside a warehouse, fulfillment has become one of the most crucial, challenging, and costly workflows. The fulfillment process begins as soon as the customer places an order, and for a company that receives thousands of orders within a day, fulfilling all of them properly can be quite a challenge. The goal of every warehouse or e-commerce business is to enhance the customer’s online and overall purchase experience, which directly translates to repeat sales and good referrals through word of mouth and online reviews. This article will discuss all you need to know about warehouse fulfillment, including the labor challenges and solutions that commonly arise in this process. While most companies spend less time focusing on the fulfillment process, it is the single process that impacts customer satisfaction the most. Here are some common labor problems that arise in the process and their solutions. 

Difficulty in Sourcing and Hiring Employees 

One of the biggest hurdles warehouses face is the sourcing and hiring of workers, especially those who understand the various operations and requirements involved in the fulfillment process. There is already a labor shortage as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but other factors also contribute to the issue including greater competition, increased wages, overtime burnout, and a higher reliance on part-time and temporary workers. These problems hamper the fulfillment process, making it difficult for warehouse management to ensure the proper fulfillment of all orders. Moreover, it leads to problems like incorrect or late deliveries and pick errors, further affecting customer satisfaction. Add to that the huge number of job vacancies and you have a big problem on your hands. 

One way to navigate this problem effectively is to offer higher wages than the market average and provide your workers with incentives and facilities that motivate them to work harder and fulfill orders with more accuracy. However, that manual labor solution comes at a large cost, when compared to looking at automating fulfillment tasks with robotics.  

Costly Training and High Turnover 

Another problem that plagues the warehouse fulfillment process is the time and cost required to train new workers regarding the processes and operations of your warehouse. Regardless of how many years the worker has spent in the warehousing industry, you will still have to bring them up to speed regarding how you run your business, your specific software and management solutions etc. Every business has a different set of rules and processes, and learning these processes takes time and money.  

Sadly, it’s estimated that less than a quarter of warehouses can fully train a new employee in less than a month, which means it takes a new employee anywhere between one to three months to get up to the same level of productivity as existing employees. Therefore, companies must spend a lot of time and resources on training new workers, reducing profitability and stability. Plus, you might offer them more incentives and higher pay to make them stay, which causes a higher turnover. Still, there is no guarantee that they won’t leave your warehouse to get a better offer once training is complete.  

The best way to shorten the training time and prevent new employees from jumping ship is to introduce a comprehensive and engaging training program to learn everything quicker. Moreover, you should employ worker engagement methods to ensure that they feel welcome and included. This type of training can be structured and well processed with the help of automation tools, WMS systems and related software platforms that are productivity focused and designed for the user experience.  

Human Errors During Picking 

Picking refers to selecting SKU’s based on lines and quantities that are ordered by the customer, which succeeds the packing process. However, it is also one of the biggest issues in the warehouse fulfillment infrastructure. Undoubtedly, warehouse employees are overworked and exhausted, making them prone to mistakes (pick errors) while picking out products for an order. When employee morale is low, or employees are forced to work excessive overtime, it becomes even more likely for them to pick out the wrong products or leave out a product entirely. 

Suppose an order includes red-colored headphones, a black selfie stick, a blue cellphone holder, and four smartphone covers in different colors. A tired or disgruntled worker can easily mix up the requirements, picking out black headphones and a blue selfie stick and completely missing out on the cellphone holder. Plus, warehouses diversify their product portfolio, making the picking process more complex. This error means the order will have to be re-picked, creating costly delays, productivity and delivery issues downstream in the supply chain delivery process. 

The only way to work around this issue is to implement an optimized storage algorithm or automation system that sorts and organizes products properly and makes it easier for workers to choose the correct ones. 

Accidents and Workers Comp 

Warehouses are certainly a place that can be labeled as “prone to injury” for some employees. A forklift accident as an example, can cause an entire shipment to topple over and fall on a worker, causing serious injury. Therefore, warehouses and fulfillment companies have to carry significant risk and costly insurance because of the labor shortage and rise in accidents. They also have to fulfill the Workers’ Compensation requirements when an employee gets injured, resulting in higher costs. 

Most warehouse accidents are caused when your workers are exhausted and work long hours without any break. Firstly, you should incorporate several short breaks into their schedule so that they can be refreshed and focus on their job. Secondly, looking at how you might be able to automate certain processes within the supply chain to help alleviate labor needs is a great long-term solution.  

Long Working Hours 

One of the biggest problems in most warehouses is the long hours that workers are subjected to. If an employee has to lift heavy goods and manage hundreds of orders every day for 10-12 hours, you can expect them to make many mistakes in the fulfillment process. Overworked employees are more prone to make mistakes, resulting in incorrect and delayed orders, which would also lower customer satisfaction. 

Instead of overburdening your employees, it might be more strategic and prudent to look at warehousing automation for different workflows, which would allow you to carry out the fulfillment process at any time. Your overworked employees will also thank you for this! 

To conclude, if you’re looking to solve your labor problems in the short and long-term, consider automation solutions from a company like Prime Robotics. Automating the dirt, dangerous and dull workflows and tasks within your warehouse can help your bottom line, your labor stress, and your employee simultaneously!  

Prime Robotics