Analysis

Opinion: For post Brexit labour shortages robotics may hold the key

As Brexit is finally triggered, many warehouse operators and managers find themselves with an unwelcome problem: where to find a hard-working, reliable and cost effective work-force to staff their fulfilment operations now that the flow of eastern European workers into Britain is slowing down dramatically.  Alexey Tabolkin, CEO Eiratech Robotics, believes that for UK warehouse and 3PL operators, robotics and automation is not just desirable but necessary,  and that upgrading is easily achievable within the timeframe.

Speaking in a recent article in eDelivery Mark Botham, COO at Bis Henderson Recruitment said: “The flow of people from Eastern Europe has slowed significantly and that will put pressure on middle management roles. Logistics and supply chain managers will have to become more creative about how they resource labour and how they develop future strategies to cope with a tightening labour market.”

Interestingly, this comes at the end of a year in which the media has been abuzz predicting which jobs and whose roles will be ‘replaced’ by a seemingly endless army of robots ready to put our workforce on the scrapheap.  The truth in a high cost developed economy such as Britain’s is rather different however, as a looming crisis in filling warehouse jobs post-Brexit shows.

As the Brexit process continues, and as the availability of willing and hard workers coming from lower cost economies in eastern Europe is eventually cut off, warehouse owners in Britain will be faced with a dilemma.  Britain is not a low cost economy, and yet the demands of consumers and customers require faster and faster delivery times, which for non-automated warehouses means one thing:  higher labour costs, and possibly even spiralling wage inflation as employers compete for a limited workforce.

Warehouse robotics systems hold the key

The availability of dynamic warehouse robotics systems holds the key.  Robotics solutions are specifically designed to target high-volume, low skilled, usually mundane and sometimes physically demanding tasks, precisely the jobs for which there will be a labour shortage post-Brexit.  By adopting a robotics automation strategy now, warehouse, e-fulfilment and 3PL operations have the opportunity to fix ‘labour’ costs into the future, ensuring competitiveness and future proofing against wage inflation, while resolving their labour pool shortage at the same time.

And of course there are the benefits in efficiencies robotics brings also: up to 6x fold increase in picking rates, increase of accuracy to 99.99%, reduction in returns, optimisation of space, 24/7 shift patterns, savings in heat, light, and so on.

Newer robotics systems are also easily installed, no longer requiring the substantial construction such operations required in the past.  This means they can be installed and deployed on a section-by-section basis thereby minimising disruption, and allowing scaling up and back depending on the peaks and troughs in demand.   And the latest innovations in so-called ‘bridging’ software ensures that the latest systems can plugin seamlessly into any warehouse management system, thereby reducing the need for training, and retaining the familiar look and feel of your current system.

Despite the scare headlines about robots and job losses, the fact is that robotics could hold the key to competitiveness for many enterprises in the UK.  Clearly the significant contraction in the labour pool over the coming years for traditional warehouse operations is likely to lead to unsustainable wage inflation as employers compete for reliable workers.

And this is the point: in developed economies like Britain, robotics and automation are not just desirable, increasingly they will become vital for enterprises like warehouses and e-fulfilment centres to survive and thrive, so that UK businesses and their customers can continue to enjoy the level of service they presently demand.

Alexey Tabolkin is CEO of Eiratech Robotics.  (www.eiratech.com).   Visit Eiratech’s stand J61 at EDX2017 in the NEC Birmingham 5 – 6th April 2017. To learn more about the InternetRetailing and eDelivery Expo and to register for free, visit www.internetretailingexpo.com and www.edeliveryexpo.com.

Image credit: Eiratech Robotics