The expansion in warehousing operations today has been facilitated to a significant degree by the growth in operational staff who have emigrated to Britain from countries across mainland Europe, and further afield. It’s been a mutually beneficial relationship with some of the early wave of migrants now in supervisory or management roles. Increases in the supply of labour have been an enabler for the growth in capacity required for new multi-channel distribution networks and integrated supply chains. It’s true to say that the management processes for warehousing operations look very different to the one from 15 to 20 years ago.
For example, HR departments have had to adapt workforce management processes. Modern Distribution Centres are now much bigger and employ many more staff (including staff with English as a second language). The largest sites now have employment agency representatives permanently on site to supply and manage temporary labour resources. Agencies may provide around 25% of the staff on average, and a much higher percentage during peak periods. Competition for labour as the industry grows has seen more priority given to training and development opportunities for all staff and more effort being put in to improve retention and reduce labour turnover. Systems technology has automated many HR processes, for example payroll services and time and attendance management.
Despite the many developments, and the radical changes, in business management processes, operational workforce planning has been relatively untouched by progress. It still exists in a space somewhere between HR activities and the day-to-day management of the operations. Accountability is not always clearly defined. Planning activity may be the responsibility of people based in operations, HR or within a centralised planning department. There isn’t a standard business approach or a standard methodology. All this despite the requirement to provide labour costings and budget information to be used in financial reporting.
Production planning, operational strategy, human resource management and business improvement are taught as separate and distinct elements of operations management. Short courses in Lean management techniques, project management and productivity improvement are also part of an established curriculum for operations managers. However, when it came to the point that I wanted to recommend a course in operational workforce planning to a client I couldn’t find one. For me, this represented a challenge for me to meet head-on. To fill this gap, and to make a start in attempting to establish operational workforce planning as a formally recognised business process.
I know from my own experience, and from working on collaborative projects, what best-practice in operational workforce planning looks like. My first task was to work out whether I could put together a logical storyboard to illustrate the steps to be taken. I learned later that the approach I adopted to do this was completely wrong, but in the first instance, in my naivety, I opened up a blank Powerpoint presentation and began at what I thought was the beginning.