Warehouse worker checking boxes in stock in a warehouse

3 ways to address labour shortages in your pick & pack operation

With peak on the horizon, it’s a good time to consider how productive your pick and pack operation is. In the face of seasonal demand, many online retailers and 3PLs turn to temporary labour to cope with the extra throughput they need to deal with.

In fact, our most recent peak survey results showcased that 40% of respondents had hired temporary labour to keep up with the ever-growing demands of the 2021 seasonal spike.

On first look, using temporary labour can seem like a great solution. But there are downsides. It can be costly and lead to quality issues – especially if your seasonal temps aren’t familiar with your packing processes. The result? Increases in pack times and product damages. Our peak season research highlights 42% of retailers pack items increase and a further 20% say their damages do to.  The opposite of what you want during the busiest pick and pack season of the year!

Throw in the aftershocks of the Coronavirus pandemic, and you’ve got a recipe for a challenging peak season. Britain’s labour market is under strain as it tries to recover. Between March and May this year, UK job vacancies reached the record figure of 1.3m.  This is a particular challenge in the warehousing & logistics sector, where labour shortages have been compounded by Brexit as 1 in 5 warehouse workers in the UK have typically been from the EU.

So, how can you overcome the challenges of seasonal demand and balance the need for seasonal labour in your pick and pack operation?

Here at Macfarlane Packaging, we often work with online retailers and 3PLs to help them increase their productivity and control costs. Our experts have suggested 3 ways you can address labour shortages in your pick & pack operation as we approach peak…

1. Introduce packaging automation

Did you know only 10% of retailers and 3PLs said they use packaging automation when we surveyed them?

Introducing packaging automation can dramatically improve the productivity of your packaging operation. From packing itself to areas like storage and transport – packing automation can help you cut the time you need to get goods out the door.

You can automate almost any packaging process – including taping, bagging, boxing, and void fill.

Take cardboard boxes. They are one of the most frequently used packaging materials used by online retailers (the chances are you’re using them in your operation).  Using a cardboard box automation system is perfect as it can quickly erect your box around your products and even seal it.  In some cases, opting to use a case erector could allow you to pack up to 16 boxes per minute depending on the footprint of your products.

And while automation may seem like a big investment, it can actually lower or even eliminate your need for temporary labour during peak. This helps you save money long term and allows you to control. Plus, there are small automation options like gummed paper tape machines, which won’t break the bank.

Not sure if packaging automation is right for your business? Check out one of our recent blog that highlights 6 signs your operation could be ready to automate your packing processes.

2. Utilising current labour resources

Within your business you will constantly want to better your pick & pack times. But, with an ongoing labour shortage, your packaging automation could be damaged. Keeping your labour force happy is essential for the success of your pick & pack operation. By offering your staff a selection of training and providing them with tools such as shadow boards it will give them more of an incentive to improve your packaging automation process.

When peak comes around it is essential that your current workforce knows exactly what their role is within the team. With many businesses offering just in time delivery (JiT) every second counts.

By designating your staff to do specific roles within the warehouse you are limiting the need for your worker to be moving to and from different zones in a warehouse – this is saving a colossal amount of time.

3. Evaluating your warehouse space and fulfilment area

Is your warehouse space organised effectively? Your warehouse and fulfilment area layout can have a direct impact on your packing operation and your labour requirements.

Can your warehouse operatives:

  • Pick products with ease?
  • Find the packaging materials they need?
  • Easily replenish workbenches?
  • Move packed products easily to the dispatch area?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, it could cause serious delays for you during high seasonal demand. Making sure your warehouse is laid out correctly can help relieve additional pressure on your packaging operations.

Making sure your packing benches are well organised is key too as it allows packers to satisfy their shift with minimal downtime.

The more organised, efficient, and productive your operation is, the more easily it will cope with demand. In turn, you can make sure you’re using labour effectively and mitigate your need for extra staff ahead of peak.

Signs your business might be ready for packaging automation

Help addressing labour shortages in your pick and pack operation

If you’re gearing up for peak or just want to make sure your operation is running smoothly, Macfarlane Packaging can help.

Our packaging review service can identify improvements to your packing process and packaging materials that can help you manage labour costs and increase your productivity.

Get in touch with the Macfarlane team today for more information.

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