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Advanced Warehouse Automation: Don’t Forget to Train and Upskill Your Employees

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Advanced Warehouse Automation: Don’t Forget to Train and Upskill Your Employees

The distribution centers (DCs) at the heart of today’s global retailers reflect the velocity of business, from the instantaneous purchasing made possible by e-commerce to the fulfillment operations that enable same-day deliveries. What makes this high-speed commerce possible is an increasingly wide array of high-performance automated warehouse systems and robotics.

Within DCs, sophisticated systems integrated with advanced software move materials faster, more effectively, and more accurately than ever before. Roaming shuttles deliver items directly to goods-to-person workstations, often supported by an automated army of fork trucks, palletizing robots, and robotic pickers.

Of course advanced automated systems and robots don’t operate in a vacuum. It is easy to forget the human side of these systems and the role it plays in their success. Like all technologies and tools, even the most advanced automated systems and robots must be backed up by people who are skilled in their use and best practices required to realize their full potential, maintenance and upkeep. 

Any system implementation is incomplete if it does not also include strategies to train and upskill employees. To do so, consider the following:

  • Focus on the opportunities that come with automation and robotics. For those in roles that are being augmented with automation, the opportunity to learn about the care and use of such systems represents a significant career advancement to acquire highly marketable skills. Additionally, this limits the manual, highly-repetitive tasks that make warehouse roles some of the most injury-prone according to recent estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Leadership should stress these and other positive impacts.
  • Experience in manual warehouse roles is often very valuable in the operation of automated systems and robots. I recently worked with a client’s pickers during the initial planning sessions for a new, highly automated high-capacity DC. As in other deployments, many of the most experienced and longstanding employees in manual roles possessed the most comprehensive understanding of the business processes that would need to be considered. Their knowledge of workflows was particularly valuable. These individuals are therefore some of the first that should be considered, not only for new roles focused on the operation and upkeep of automation, but also the upskilling required.
  • Look for employees who possess the talents and desire to work with automated systems like robots, AS/RS, autonomous vehicles, etc. Candidates should be driven employees, but those who are mechanically inclined are not the only ones to consider. Gamers, for example, are typically very strategic and adept at seeing patterns – an inclination directly applicable to fast-based warehouse environments. Remember that desire and attitude are key: the skills required to use, perfect and maintain automated systems can be learned and honed. Ideal candidates should also be self-starters who can take advantage of the autonomy automation gives to end users.
  • If possible, involve your top-pick employees and members of your automation team during the construction phase of automated and robotic systems. This is particularly important when new DCs are built or facilities are modernized. A large DC for a multi-channel retailer can include innumerable components. You want your workforce to be immediately familiar with the system when you turn it on – not a year after its operational. Early in your automation project is also the perfect time for your employees to learn from those who implement the systems and robotics and creates an opportunity to upskill in-house staff that should not be missed.
  • Create opportunities to invest in your employees. Access to a formal “Higher Education” course of study is inaccessible for many, and at times over-emphasized in the corporate world. There is, however, an alternative. Many colleges and universities now offer established training programs and certifications in robotics and engineering-related topics that can be used to strengthen in-house automation teams. Often such programs can be designed to directly address your operational imperatives.

Behind every great automated warehouse are knowledgeable and skilled people. Today, when the pace and scale of business requires more automation and innovation than ever before, it has never been more important to focus on the human resources needed to operate it, maintain it and perfect it over time. Keeping that in mind is the first step in realizing the full potential of the most promising innovations now revolutionizing materials handling.

Author’s Bio

Colin Thompson has more than two decades of experience in materials handling. He currently serves as the Vice President of Operations at Vanderlande, North America, where he oversees day-to-day operations. Colin received his Bachelor of Science in Computer Sciences from the University of Liverpool and also serves on the Robotics and Mechatronics Engineering Industrial Advisory Board at Kennesaw State University.


employee job accountability supply chain How to Identify and Address Productivity Gaps Among Supply Chain Employees

How to Increase Employee Engagement

Navigating company culture is a big undertaking. Every business has many moving parts and different, unique employees. When inspired and focused, team members can achieve great things for their organization. By increasing employee engagement, a company can grow and reach new heights, but how can this be done?

Before diving into different ideas, it’s important to understand why employee engagement is important. When staff members are more engaged, they are more productive and creative. On behalf of their employer, they achieve more and display more passion. Engagement helps improve morale, company culture, business results, and more.

There are many benefits to increasing employee engagement. Those perks include greater employee satisfaction, increased innovation, more positivity at work, and better collaboration. All these benefits contribute to a business’s success and drive growth. 

One way to increase employee engagement is to listen to staff ideas and concerns. By prioritizing communication and feedback, companies show that they care about different perspectives. Also, employees will feel respected and valued at work. Staff will work harder for people they trust, and they will seize any opportunity to bring their own ideas to life.

To help employees feel their best at and outside of work, organizations can create a corporate wellness program. This sort of initiative supports mental and physical wellbeing. By taking care of one’s health, staff members can improve stress management, boost morale, work better together, and more. Program offerings may include counseling, nutrition classes, and gym membership stipends. 

Also, consider creating employee recognition programs. By acknowledging staff achievements and merit, businesses build their team members’ confidence. Additionally, recognition strengthens workplace relationships. Not only do individuals become more engaged, but whole teams do as well. Examples of accomplishments to celebrate include work anniversaries, sales performance, and certifications.

Next, professional development opportunities can help employees grow and explore skills and passions. By focusing on what staff members are interested in, companies can make their employees more engaged and competitive within their industry. Examples of development options include continuing education, attending conferences, and shadowing executives.

Another essential tool for employee engagement is incentives and goals. With clear plans and desirable rewards, employees are more driven to achieve. For instance, managers can decide on quarterly sales quotas and goals. Then, leaders can offer interest-aligned incentives to inspire staff. Examples of incentives include added paid time off, tickets to special events, and gift cards.

Last, a flexible schedule and working-from-home options can help teammates create the perfect work hours and office to complement their lifestyles. This way, employees can be engaged when and where they are most comfortable and productive. When implementing this, it’s important for managers to develop parameters that match what is best for the business.

Finding out how to motivate employees can be complicated, but thinking strategically can help businesses decide what will work best for their capabilities and staff. With useful tips and ideas, any team can try new things to drive productivity and creativity at work. Once staff are engaged, they can achieve great feats.

Author Bio

Rachel Harmon is a content writer for Cristaux International – a Chicago-based manufacturing company specializing in awards, gifts, and trophies. As part of a dedicated team, she works hard to develop strategic content. Her work elevates the Cristaux brand and utilizes the digital and human elements of marketing.


How Lifelong Learning Is Becoming A New Version Of The MBA

When higher education looks back on 2020 in decades to come, the year of the pandemic could be viewed as a turning point for MBAs and other advanced degrees.

COVID-19 forced a nationwide experiment in online learning, and one lesson stemming from that experiment maybe that furthering your education doesn’t necessarily need to mean paying high tuition to earn a formal post-graduate degree.

“We all need to be lifelong learners if we hope to achieve our goals and lead a fulfilling life,” says Kimberly Roush, founder of All-Star Executive Coaching ( and co-author of Who Are You… When You Are Big?

“But that can mean many things, and because of the pandemic I think it’s become even more clear that the ways we approach educating ourselves don’t need to be stuck in the notions from the past of how learning takes place.”

Harvard’s and Columbia’s business schools are already adding certificates and lifelong learning to their programs. Instead of immersing themselves in a degree program for a compact period of time, students have the option to stretch their learning out over years, latching on to what meets their current needs.

That kind of approach fits well with the goals and lifestyles of many business leaders, says Roush. She offers a three-month group-coaching program for executives in transition called “Back In the Game,” which provides business leaders with a chance to continue learning and honing skills to help reignite careers thrown off track by the pandemic.

Roush has advice for those who want to keep adding to their knowledge base throughout their careers, whether that’s done through a certificate program, a one-time online class, coaching sessions, or a more formal degree:

Think deeply about yourself and your goals. Allow yourself the time and space to reflect and get off autopilot so you can be deliberate and intentional as you move forward, Roush says. “We tend to be all about drive and action,” she says. “Reflecting on ourselves is something that often gets overlooked. In some cases, people don’t have the tools to do it effectively.”

Strive to be a learner, not a knower. Some people are “knowers” and others are “learners,“ Roush says. “Knowers feel compelled to know the answer, a sign of an insecure ego,” she says. “In today’s world, of course, it’s impossible for any one person, or any one leader, to know it all. Knowers operate more out of control than out of curiosity. They do not really lead so much as they manage.” Lifelong learners, on the other hand, have a predisposition to be curious. “They have a healthy ego,” she says, “so they have no problem saying, ‘I don’t know the answer, but let’s figure it out.’ ”

Recognize that your joy for learning can impact others. When business leaders are learners, this creates more of a partnership approach with employees, who feel empowered as a result. “The focus is on working together,” Roush says. “It all stems from that natural curiosity. By asking ‘what’ and ‘how,’ leaders encourage more conversation—and more learning by everyone.”

Understand that self-improvement doesn’t always involve major change. Roush has worked with many executives who made adjustments in their careers, but those adjustments need not be dramatic.  “Often, people have been deliberate about their career choice and love their field; they just have gotten caught up in a part of it that they don’t like,” she says. “Sometimes, it’s just a matter of getting back to their roots and remembering what they love about their job and allowing themselves to focus far more on that. You don’t necessarily have to make the big right turn and completely change what you’re doing. You’re not necessarily on the wrong path; you may just have hit a rough stretch or don’t know exactly where you are.”

“Great coaches are always still learning too,” Roush says. “I’m constantly looking for new opportunities to learn and grow and I get to learn from every person I coach – we learn together.  One thing I always want to do is spread the word about the power that resides within each of us if we reach for our potential.”


Kimberly Roush is the founder of All-Star Executive Coaching (, which specializes in coaching C-level and VP-level executives from Fortune 100 companies to solo entrepreneurs. She also is co-author of Who Are You… When You Are Big? Roush, a former national partner with a “Big 4” public accounting firm, brings more than 30 years of business experience to her coaching including extensive work with C-suite executives, boards of directors, and audit committees. She offers a program called Back In the Game (BIG), which is a three-month group coaching program for executives in transition. Roush also is a keynote speaker and leadership facilitator, and is a Charter Member of ForbesSpeakers.


Why Sending Your Workers ‘Back to School’ is Good Business

Learning shouldn’t stop when someone earns a diploma or degree, and that’s especially true in the workplace where the company’s fate – and an employee’s career – could rest on the constant thirst to learn and improve.

“Developing a culture of continued education and continuous improvement is critical if you want to retain your staff and provide them with advancement opportunities,” says Shawn Burcham (, founder and CEO of PFSbrands and author of Keeping Score with GRITT: Straight Talk Strategies for Success.

Essentially, Burcham says, sending employees “back to school” is good business, but that doesn’t mean you need to enroll them in Harvard’s MBA program.

“There’s plenty you can do right within your own doors and that employees can do on their own,” he says.

A few examples, Burcham says, include:

Establish in-house training programs. “Many companies spend thousands of dollars to send their employees to seminars or conferences,” Burcham says. “This strategy is fine, but personal growth starts by training in the workplace.” One example at PFSbrands, he says, was the creation of a Financial Literacy Committee that worked to make sure employees were educated about the financial aspects of the company, helping them to understand income statements and balance sheets. “This makes everyone more aware of the challenges involved with achieving profitability,” Burcham says. “Furthermore, this education provides everyone an opportunity to see how they can impact the company’s profitability and enhance their opportunity for additional income.”

Encourage everyone to read books for personal development. “One of my biggest regrets and mistakes in life is that I didn’t start reading books until age 40,” Burcham says. Now, he has created a book club at his company to encourage and incentivize everyone to continue to grow and learn, and he requires the senior-leadership team to read a minimum of 12 books a year. “I’ve seen dozens of people improve their lives as a result of implementing our book club,” he says.

Target lifelong learners in recruiting efforts. You can encourage employees to develop a continuous-improvement mindset, but it’s also possible to find people with that mindset in the hiring process, Burcham says. “We’ve found that lifelong learners are a great fit at PFSbrands, so we’ve developed systems and processes that help us to recruit these types of individuals,” he says. “Employees who don’t make an effort to continuously learn and improve will ultimately find themselves at another company. We train our leaders to not avoid the critical conversations with individuals who are not working toward improvement.”

“Despite how many degrees hang on the walls in their offices, wise leaders are committed to never stop learning,” Burcham says. “Whether it’s done in-house or at an industry conference, you owe it to yourself and your employees to engage in continued education. After all, a successful company’s growth is dependent on the capabilities of its employees.”


Shawn Burcham (, author of Keeping Score with GRITT: Straight Talk Strategies for Success, is the founder & CEO of PFSbrands, which he and his wife, Julie, started out of their home in 1998. The company has over 1,500 branded foodservice locations across 40 states and is best known for their Champs Chicken franchise brand which was started in 1999. Prior to starting PFSbrands, Burcham spent five years with a Fortune 100 company, Mid-America Dairymen (now Dairy Farmers of America). He also worked for three years as a Regional Sales Manager for a midwest Chester’s Fried chicken distributor.

new tech

How To Introduce Employees To New Tech

New technology solutions can have a positive impact, not just your how you work, but on your office culture. Sometimes new platforms that drastically change your regular processes can intimidate and alienate workers who are used to working in traditional systems and procedures.

It’s normal for workers to at first be apprehensive to big changes when they’ve grown used to the way things have been done for years. That’s why it’s important to see things from their point of view and understand that change is tough.

Help Them See The Value

When introducing new tech solutions to your colleagues, it’s important to make them understand why you’re implementing it and what it will do for the business. Explain not just how it will benefit the business in general, but how it will benefit their specific roles and what the impact will be.

If it’s a tool that’s meant to streamline a certain process, be sure to impress on them that the time saved will allow them to focus on more and grow their roles. If it’s a solution that’s meant to free up more resources, discuss with them how they now direct that saved budget and labor to more productive things. If they can see the value it will bring to them as an individual, you can make them excited to learn more about it and look forward to its implementation.

Document management solutions represent a big shift in how businesses interact with their documents, especially if you’re transitioning from a mostly paper-driven structure. However, it’s a technology that vastly improves business processes by introducing tools like automation and intelligent organization.

Make a Plan and Keep Them In The Loop

Many big tech solutions require time for implementation and onboarding. It rarely happens overnight, so having a roadmap for implementation is essential to make sure it all goes smoothly. More importantly, staying transparent with your employees on this roadmap is helpful in easing them into the new system. Letting them know what they can expect during the implementation period can give them ease and let them know that they have time to get used to the transition rather than just diving in.

Give Them Time

New technology always has a learning curve, and this is especially true for those who aren’t used to working with it as part of their job. While some are quick learners and early adopters, there is an equal number of those who have more of a struggle learning how things work. They won’t get it overnight, so it’s important to be patient and encouraging. A transitional period where they’re still allowed to get their job done the old way while learning the new way is encouraged if possible. As long as they’re willing to learn and not resistant, it’s worth it to let them grow at their own pace, all while providing the necessary support such as additional training and mentoring.


If some employees are more resistant than others to adopt new platforms, it doesn’t hurt to throw out some incentives to encourage them to embrace the change. Having perks such as free lunch with training will make those employees a little more enthusiastic about attending those meetings.

Get creative with tying small rewards to the use of the new tech solution as well as implying bigger forms of recognition for demonstrating proficiency and enthusiasm for the new system. Letting them know that the skills learned from training will reflect across their entire career and showcase their adaptability.

Listen to Them

Taking in feedback is an important part of any business decision, not listening to your employee’s opinions and concerns about adopting a new tech solution. Encouraging an environment where your colleagues can discuss freely their experience with the current processes and how introducing a new factor that will impact those processes will help inform how you build out your implementation roadmap and how you go about training. Being open to their ideas of how to transition and addressing their concerns will make them feel part of the process and not feel like it’s being forced upon them.

Jesse Wood is the CEO of eFileCabinet, a best-of-breed advanced document management system that improves the lives of people, small to enterprise-level businesses, and their clients. Wood has 20 years of leadership experience innovating custom technical solutions for a wide range of business applications.