Shrinking the supply chain skills gap with prescriptive analytics

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Shrinking the supply chain skills gap with prescriptive analytics

By Guy Yehiav - 12/11/2019

It’s no secret that retail supply chain and warehousing face a shortage of talent in the near future. 

A recent MHI report indicated that 65% of supply chain professionals see hiring skilled workers as a top challenge. This skills gap can be explained largely by the onset of the digital age. More technology than ever before is available for supply chains, from autonomous delivery trucks to warehouse robots to the latest handheld devices. This technology requires specialized talent to implement, maintain, and (in some cases) operate, which can be hard to come by. Combined with high attrition, this becomes a singled-out risk.

I suggest a different approach. Rather than focusing on hiring more external technical talent, supply chain professionals should instead look within their own organizations. Shrinking the gap between technical and nontechnical staff is possible through upskilling nontechnical workers. This process starts by implementing intuitive technology, like prescriptive analytics, that is accessible to more than just tech professionals with 20 years of experience and an engineering degree. 

Here’s how prescriptive analytics can foster talent development within the supply chain and help shrink the skills gap.

Advanced technology becomes accessible to all
Given that today’s retail consumer expects fast, accurate, and affordable shipping every time, working in supply chain can be incredibly stressful. That’s one reason why nontechnical workers may resist the idea of incorporating a complex software solution into their daily workflow. Prescriptive analytics is the ideal technology to implement when trying to upskill these workers due to its intuitiveness and ease of use. Prescriptive analytics uses AI and machine learning to analyze and interpret data and send the right information, to the right person, at the right time.

For example, prescriptive analytics can be used to identify operational bottlenecks, and tell the appropriate worker exactly how to fix it, what is the next best step, such as consolidating picking stations, adjusting staffing levels based on anticipated demand, and more. It is a highly efficient approach that delivers notable and immediate improvements. 

Prescriptive analytics can even be integrated with most major handheld retail devices to ease the transition for skeptics. By making it clear to nontechnical workers that not all technology is out of reach, and will definitely make their jobs easier, you can begin to close the skills gap.

Career opportunities arise
When nontechnical workers begin using prescriptive analytics, their development and curiosity continues. Many times, I have seen these workers begin to inquire further about what other insights can be found leveraging the solution.

Prescriptive analytics can create many new opportunities in the analytics field, even for the least technically inclined employees. Interested nontechnical employees can easily learn how to perform advanced tasks on the administrative end of their solution, such as developing the “patterns” of behavior that identify opportunities, results optimization, user management, dashboard configuration for specific users, among others. The most innovative prescriptive analytics solution vendors will even provide all of this “advanced-user” training free of charge. 

Does the idea of a nontechnical warehouse worker learning advanced analytics sound like a stretch? It isn’t. In fact, I strongly recommend that my supply chain customers source these advanced users from their front lines. After all, in a field as complex as supply chain, who better to improve the business than the people who have experienced those complexities first-hand?

Attrition falls
Attrition is one of the single biggest factors affecting the supply chain skills gap. In a strong economy, people have plenty of job options, making retaining them a daunting task. Another by-product of these conditions is higher labor costs as a means of attracting or retaining talent. Given all this, it is more important than ever for supply chain professionals to limit attrition -- they can’t close their skills gap if employees are constantly coming and going.

With the help of prescriptive analytics, attrition can often be limited without any added effort. The aforementioned benefits of prescriptive analytics - simplicity of use making tech accessible to all, and its creation of opportunities to advance - not only help close the skills gap, but improve the work environment as well. 

Employees who may have felt stagnant on the picking lines suddenly have more upward mobility. Prescriptive actions point to improvements that result in cost savings which can be passed on to employees in the form of bonuses, raises, new equipment, etc. These and many other positive effects have a significant impact on employee happiness, giving them all the more reason to remain with their current employer and reap the benefits of prescriptive analytics.

Supply chain professionals shouldn’t be daunted by the idea of shrinking the skills gap in their field. A great step towards that goal is investing in simple, yet powerful technology solutions that the entire workforce can learn, use, and benefit from. It will become a launchpad from which upskilling for nontechnical workers can begin, starting the process toward shrinking the skills gap.

Guy Yehiav is GM and VP of Zebra Analytics.

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