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Robots could help break down the barriers putting staff off working in the warehouse sector

Warehouse automation and robots could help tackle a looming labour shortage in UK warehouses by addressing the barriers that deter people from working in the sector, according to a new survey by fulfilment solutions provider 6 River Systems.

EU nationals returning to their home countries as a result of a combination of Brexit and Covid-19 and an ageing national population means there are fewer potential workers able to undertake physical work with job seeker website Adzuna noting a 36% increase in job ads for the logistics and warehouse sector since March, according to the company.

The 6 River Systems survey suggests that people are put off working in warehouses and fulfilment centres by the physical nature of the work, which often involves pushing a heavy trolley for miles each day to pick or pack items. It was cited by 14% of respondents as a reason why they would not work in a warehouse at any stage of their career.

Only 8% of warehouse or fulfilment centre workers said that they could definitely see themselves continuing in that sort of role until they retired. 21% said that the work would be too physical.

However, around a third (32 per cent) of respondents who didn’t work in a warehouse or fulfilment centre said that they might consider working in one if such barriers could be overcome. This included 12% of women and 17% of people approaching retirement.

The physical nature of the job, lack of staffing and the pressure to work faster were the most common complaints with only 15% truly happy in their jobs.

When asked whether they would welcome collaborative picking robots with artificial intelligence and machine learning to make the work less physical and reduce the amount of walking required by directing the worker to the shortest routes, 35% of those currently or previously working in a warehouse said that this would help either because the physicality of the job left them tired or because their employer was short-staffed.

Simon Jones, solutions executive UK & Ireland at 6 River Systems, said: “It’s clear from this survey that the physical nature of work in warehouses and fulfilment centres makes it hard to attract and retain the employees required to support the boom we are seeing in e-commerce.”

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