DHL report addresses the intersection of technology and workers’ roles in the future

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A report issued this month by Plantation, Fla.-based express delivery and logistics services provider DHL took a close look at how the roles, responsibilities, systems, schedules, tools, and environments of logistics workers will change over the coming decade.

The report, entitled “Future of Work in Logistics,” was based on feedback from more than 7,000 logistics and supply chain professionals, focusing on the reality of the workforce, the opportunities and challenges faced and what organizations will need to attract, retain, and deliver workers in the digital era.

One major takeaway of report was that it is estimate that 29% of all current workplace tasks are done by machines, a tally that the report said is expected to head up to 52% by 2025. What’s more, it added that nine out of 10 logistics workers indicated that technology has been beneficial to their role over the last five years, with more than 50% viewing technology as a potential threat.

As for why they see technology as a potential threat, Matthias Heutger, SVP and Global Head of Innovation at DHL, whom was directly involved with this report, explained that there are many reasons for that sentiment, with the caveat that they mostly around uncertainty driven by the rapid development of technologies and resulting changes in job requirements.

“We regularly engage with customers and employees on the topic of the future of work at our Innovation Centers, and we recently launched new workshop methodologies to dig deeper into the digitalization, both from a supply chain and change management perspective,” he said. “Regardless of why workers feel this way, it’s most important for leaders to acknowledge these sentiments and actively work to overcome them when crafting future-proofing strategies and reinforcing a culture of innovation. Upskilling is a huge component of preparing the workforce of tomorrow, and we’re encouraged by the fact that the majority of survey respondents across all geographies and functions said they’re ready to attain new skill sets to remain employable in the wake of digitalization. Knowing workers are ready to increasingly embrace change, companies have a responsibility and opportunity to help employees develop the skills they need and face the future without fear.”

When asked to offer up some examples of human machine co-working environments that can be developed to counter the premise of technology being viewed as a potential threat, Heutger said that it is really about implementing or continuing to implement human-machine collaboration within supply chain and logistics operations, adding that managing employee expectations through strong change management initiatives, including a process for collecting employee feedback, is key.

“This ensures everyone can adopt an open mindset and play an integral role in the adoption of advanced technologies and promote new ways of working,” he said. “DHL continuously employs robotics and automation to aid workers and thereby increase operational efficiencies. Locus robots, which assist employee picking activities, reduce time spent maneuvering pushcarts and physical strain on employees, and increase picking efficiency while keeping the flexibility needed in logistics operations. DHL has also implemented sortation robots to increase productivity and service quality at DHL Express service centers. In both examples, employees quickly realize the benefits of technology as they’re able to do their jobs more efficiently with improved wellbeing and express favorable sentiments. Employees pretty quickly adapt once they understand firsthand how the human-machine collaboration improves overall workflows and enables participation in higher value work.” 

DHL observed that the report’s authors anticipate an uneven application of technologies around thew world, with some regions and teams along supply chains experiencing slower or smaller changes compared to others.

“While a particular technology may work anywhere, the business case of its application or adoption is dependent on the specific problem it’s trying to solve and the unique framework of an organization and its supply chain,” said Heutger. “The economic landscape also varies from region to region. Factors like labor, property, transportation and utility costs, as well as local laws and even team culture, can all impact the rate or magnitude of implementation. One can look at today’s uneven application of self-driving vehicles, warehouse robots, or human-tracking cameras around the world to get an idea of how impactful these factors can be.”


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Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
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Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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