Hiring was the name of the game in 2022 when a survey by Deposco and Industry Dive revealed it as a top priority for supply chain leaders. In 2023, however, hiring is fading out of focus for supply chain execs this year, while upskilling, automation, and retention become the new workforce story.

After years of labor challenges, businesses have realized they need to employ supply chain technologies that will simplify existing labor management challenges, bring speed to value, and allow them to adapt to growth.

In June 2023, we asked more than 350 supply chain leaders from retailers, wholesalers, and 3PL/4PL firms about their preparations and predictions for the 2023 peak season. This year’s report revealed that hiring is the main priority for only 8% of supply chain executives — even though labor turnover and retention remain top concerns for nearly four out of 10 respondents (38%).

Why not take our Peak Season Performance Quiz? Get some mid-season benchmarks and best practices for improving the performance of your supply chain this season and beyond. The assessment grades your company based on 3 ‘pillars of readiness’ that are crucial to long-term growth: preparation, agility, and efficiency.

You can also download the full report 👉 Navigating Peak Season 2023: Supply Chain Leaders’ Top Strategies and Priorities

Getting the best out of what you have

A new peak season priority emerged over hiring in 2023: a focus on digital upskilling among existing workers. Digital upskilling teaches employees the technical skills they need to thrive in an increasingly digital landscape.

This is especially important as businesses move away from manual and paper-based fulfillment processes. Companies like National Roper’s Supply, for example, saw a 40% decrease in labor hours/week with Deposco. Last year, only 4% of leaders reported digital upskilling as their most important initiative. In the last 12 months, this number has seen huge growth, with 18% now identifying digital upskilling as their top priority.

Hiring alone won’t solve labor challenges

Why is hiring fading out of focus in 2023, giving way to upskilling, automation, and retention instead?

It’s likely that supply chain executives are approaching the labor issue with eyes wide open, finally recognizing that hiring alone won’t completely address worker shortages.

When supply chain leaders pull back to consider the larger picture, the productivity decline caused by labor shortages and the skyrocketing costs associated with hiring in a high-turnover industry ultimately have a detrimental impact on the bottom line.

Create labor where it doesn’t exist

“There’s no magic lever to pull that brings 100 new employees into your business,” said Josh Lett, senior vice president of professional services at Deposco. “Companies are now realizing that they must find ways to create their own labor in places where it doesn’t or won’t exist.”

 

Driving retention through innovation

By minimizing skills gaps and helping workers keep pace with transformation, digital upskilling helps logistics operations improve worker retention — a top concern for 35% of respondents.

“People want to work for a company they can build their future with,” Lett says. “If you help them upskill, it’s better for them and for you. It causes workers to stay because their employer is investing in them. When you invest in the employee, the employee not only stays but also provides more productive output.”

The following three factors, all revealed in the survey, are likely contributors to the new workforce story for 2023 and the move from hiring to upskilling.

1. Consumer demand is getting hard to predict

With inflation once again being a top national and global issue impacting peak season, it’s no surprise that 44% of leaders expect a loss of purchasing power, reduced consumer demand, fewer sales, and shifts in how people buy goods. One sign of buying habit changes can be found in Amazon Prime Day: For 75% of executives, Amazon’s annual sitewide sale is now being considered a peak event.

Johnson said that this data point could be a predictor of more peak season changes to come. “I think we’ll see more frequency for generated peak events,” he said. “They might be smaller, but they’ll occur more often throughout the year. Instead of sprinkling their purchases throughout the year, we may see more people waiting to buy certain items they want or need until certain peak events.”

2. Let the 3PLs handle labor challenges

Working with a 3PL is one way to handle increased order volume without needing to bring more staff in-house. There’s a steady increase in the number of businesses that plan to partner with a third party to simplify inventory management and fulfillment.

This year, 33% of supply chain executives plan to offload fulfillment to a 3PL during peak season (up from 7% in 2022), while 11% will offload fulfillment to a 3PL year-round (up from 4% in 2022).

3. Go for automation that prioritizes speed to value

Automation can help reduce dependence on labor,  streamline high-volume processes, and mitigate human error. Survey respondents report that they’re more willing to invest in technology and automation this year to address supply chain issues during peak season. In fact, deploying more automation was named by 55% of supply chain leaders as the top strategy to address peak season labor issues (up from 11% in 2022).

The looming transportation and logistics worker shortage is driving more automation investments, with 43% of respondents saying that labor scarcity is forcing them to make larger pre-peak investments in technology, including automation, in order to ramp up effectively. When making these investments, it’s essential for businesses to find solutions that they can implement quickly and count on to scale with future growth.

Get all the facts upfront

“Now more than ever, there’s a need to invest in technology with an obvious ROI,” says Michael Johnson, vice president of business consulting at Deposco. “Especially if you’re relying on automation to help close the labor gap, it’s critical to be able to accurately predict and measure ROI before investing in a warehouse management system or order management system.”

For the first time in several years, supply chain executives were less rushed by outside forces, such as the pandemic, to make fast decisions and quick changes in response to fluctuating market conditions and demands. Presumably, supply chain leaders had more time to evaluate strategy, get back to business basics, and ask this important question: Does the value justify the investment? Are you getting the full story to begin with?

Related tips for doing this: Beware of the 45-day WMS implementation

How have your preparations for peak season compared to what other supply chain leaders are doing? How happy are you with your performance so far?

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