People matter

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by Emily Atkins
Emily Atkins has been editor of MM&D magazine since 2002.

Robots, drones, artificial intelligence. These technologies are making headlines in supply chain lately, with their promise of faster, more efficient operations. The theory is that flawed, error-prone humans need to be supplanted—or at least supplemented—by error-free, tireless, uncomplaining and unpaid automated workers.

From a purely bottom-line perspective this makes sense. If you can eliminate the wild card—the vagaries of the human creature with its big brain, uncontrollable nature, and inconvenient need to sleep, eat and socialize—the work process gets a lot simpler. No more scheduling headaches, no worries about increases in the minimum wage, no attempting to overlay demand planning on the human resources available, and no need to hire and train temps for peak periods.

Sounds idyllic. The lights-out, fully automated DC hums along smoothly, 24-7, filling orders, receiving and putting away goods with 100 percent accuracy.

But it’s not that simple. As I have mentioned before, achieving this type of operation may be feasible, and it has been done, but it remains the preserve of the very large corporation with a relatively stable operation, and deep pockets.

For the rest, the human worker is not going to be obsolete any time soon. Supply chain managers will continue to face the challenges of human resources that are part of the reason behind the push for automation. Witness our Executive Outlook section, starting on page 20 this issue. Although we divided up our take on trends and issues, in each case the availability of skilled labour remains top of mind.

Being able to find and hire enough workers with the right education and skills is a major driver in supply chain decision-making. Locations, operations planning, risk management, and customer service—all these need to take the human factor into account.

As a counterpoint, check out our lead news story on page 4. Turns out millennials love their supply chain jobs. And if you find that interesting, it’s only a short wait until we reveal the results of our 2018 Survey of the Canadian Logistics Professional in our January-February issue. Stay tuned for details on salaries, working conditions, job satisfaction and more.