Area Development
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to accelerate consumer and workplace trends that were, in many cases, already under way pre-pandemic, challenges and opportunities in finding, training, and retaining an efficient industrial workforce remain constants for distributors and manufacturers. Effective site selection decisions hinge on a complex cost/quality balance of labor, logistics, and location. It is critical that occupiers remain vigilant in fostering a workplace and workforce that delivers on performance objectives while meeting current and future pandemic-driven challenges. With labor costs making up as much as 70 percent of warehouse operating expenses, the focus on workforce potential in existing and future locations continues to be one of the most critical components of ongoing innovation for successful occupiers.

{{RELATEDLINKS}} Much of the conversation has centered on the agility of suppliers and distributors and how they have been able to meet the peaks and valleys of volatile demand (or early in the pandemic, temporary facility shutdowns). Certainly, higher than typical demand for online order fulfillment in spring 2020, as U.S. e-commerce demand increased 44 percent in Q2 YoY, meant that occupiers were implementing creative solutions to find more interim worker resources, and some of those solutions will remain for ongoing fulfillment demand as it finds its new equilibrium for the rest of 2020 into 2021.

Similarly, manufacturers are reevaluating anticipated product volume and workforce demands as consumption patterns settle, with new opportunities related to some sectors considering “right shoring” in reaction to supply chain disruptions encountered in 2020 and lessons learned during the pandemic. Some sectors, such as PPE (personal protective equipment) and pharmaceuticals, may also find new opportunities as government mandates or company decisions on inventory holding positions drive new demand patterns in locations around the globe and in North America, specifically.

Whatever the future holds for how consumers buy, suppliers distribute, and manufacturers produce, meeting industrial labor and workforce needs will bring new opportunities and challenges that will help drive differentiation among successful users. Questions surrounding quantity, cost, and quality of industrial labor offer multiple dimensions for examination and discussion.

Unemployment and Labor Availability
As of September 2020, U.S. unemployment was reported at 7.9 percent, translating to 12.5 million people. While this indicates continued improvement in the jobs situation since the April 2020 unemployment rate of 14.7 percent at the to-date height of the pandemic this year, there are still significant numbers of potential workers that could find employment opportunities in the warehousing/distribution, transportation, and manufacturing sectors.

It is critical that occupiers remain vigilant in fostering a workplace and workforce that delivers on performance objectives while meeting current and future pandemic-driven challenges. Many wonder why some industrial occupiers, including e-commerce distribution, are still having difficulties finding enough labor in some markets to meet upticks in demand and peak seasonal hiring. In September 2020 there were over 300,000 material-moving-worker jobs posted in the U.S., up over 30 percent from the same month YoY, and up nearly three times from September 2016. While some of this may be due to temporary demand that may level off post-pandemic, the reality is that seasonal holiday hiring for warehousing and distribution has been growing each year and starting earlier (in late summer) and ending later, as many workers are needed to process returns of online purchases after the holidays.

As hotels, restaurants, and shops closed temporarily (or permanently) in the early stages of the pandemic, more than 8.5 million workers in the retail and hospitality/restaurant industries were impacted in March and April 2020 with temporary or permanent job losses. Some thought this might translate into an abundance of available workers for warehousing/distribution or transportation jobs, which are currently in greater demand. There are certainly transferable skillsets, competitive wages, and career opportunities to encourage those workers to transition, but high unemployment in one sector does not necessarily equate to abundant labor in another.

There are many factors contributing to the lack of available workers that industrial employers should consider when addressing the current workforce and preparing for future labor needs. Among them are: Ideas and Approaches to Recruiting and Retaining an Effective Industrial Workforce
Just as the pandemic has accelerated or amplified some consumer and industry trends that were already in play, the ability to find and retain productive workers in an industrial operation remains a longstanding objective for every successful operation. Here are some things to consider: A major key to successfully attracting and retaining qualified labor lies in the ability of distributors and manufacturers to promote the career opportunities the industrial sector has to offer. Changing perceptions and increasing the understanding of the skills and career paths available in these important, and often growing, sectors of the economy will have lasting effects on the overall stability of the industrial workforce.