While the “Future of Work” was already a growing concept before Covid-19, the pandemic fast-tracked some of the disruption necessary to begin implementing new structures. With its “Future of Work in Logistics Trend Report”, DHL has published the results of what it claims is “the largest-ever survey of the global logistics workforce.”
The interactive and highly detailed trend report was published in two stages. Early DEC21, Part 1 dealt with Workforce and Digitalization. Part 2 emerged this week, offering two potential and illustrated concepts for the next decades of the industry’s future: “one augmented by technology, and one automated by it,” the press release summarized. “DHL envisages a future in which some aspects from both the augmented and automated concepts are realized, mostly across the following six segments of the supply chain: warehousing operations, long-haul transportation, last-mile delivery, back-office operations, customer service, and supply chain planning.”
Flexibility is a recurring word in the report: not only is the industry faced with unpredictable challenges, market demands, and disruptions, but it also has to cope with varying stages of digitalization across supply chain stakeholders. Smart new technologies can support and transform logistics, throwing up efficiency potentials, improving health and safety aspects, contributing to sustainability measures, opening up to greater diversity (e.g. through remote work), and speeding up processes, to name just a few benefits. The trend report adds: “With augmenting technology, employees such as warehouse specialists and couriers will perform quicker, safer, and with less physical and mental effort, due to new smart technologies. The workspace primarily used as office space will also reduce, permitting more real estate to be dedicated to logistics functions like warehousing, as technology enables office staff to work remotely.”
Automation is not welcome, but coming anyway
Automation is a word that triggers negative associations and fear amongst more than half of the workforce, as they perceive it as a threat to their jobs. Yet, the gradual move towards deploying robots and other automated technology within warehouses, for example, is understandably a growing trend. After all, robots can perform at all hours of the day, reduce the risk of error, and enable process optimization through tracked data analysis. So, yes, certain jobs will fall away, or will change. DHL predicts a shift “towards jobs that keep the supply chain running such as maintenance and optimization crews.”
Jana Koch, Partner and Managing Director, DHL Consulting, placates: “We are a people business. It’s our people delivering the value of our services and of our business, so it’s our core interest to take everybody along on the digitalization journey. Everyone plays a role.”
Not overnight, but necessary
“We know that the digital transformation of logistics is not going to happen overnight, but we are now at a tipping point. Scaling digital transformation is people-led and technology-accelerated. From this perspective, we must prepare for the realities of augmented and automated futures today, and enable employees to play an active role in shaping the future of work alongside their organization,” Klaus Dohrmann, Vice President Innovation Europe & Trend Research, DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation, advises.
Interestingly, despite the increasing pace of change happening now and over the past 5-10 years, DHL “does not expect either of these two concepts to wholly integrate, especially in the course of the next 10 to 20 years.”
Instead, it points to the need for “careful planning, active management, open communication, inspirational and pragmatic leadership, and novel approaches,” including in ensuring the active involvement of staff in the changes, and external collaboration to source new talents.
Spanner in the works
Disruption of a different kind unfortunately also occurred that week. On 07APR22, social media began filling up with images and videos of a B757-27A belonging to DHL’s Panamanian subsidiary, DHL Aero Expreso. It had set off as cargo flight D07216 from San José Airport, Costa Rica, intending to fly to Guatemala City, Guatemala. Yet, after just 10 minutes’ flying time, at around 35 miles into the route, the pilots notified the tower of issues with the hydraulics, requesting permission to return. After an extended holding period (the aircraft had 2.5 hours’ worth of trip fuel on board), the pilots hard-landed the plane, fully applying the brakes, after which the aircraft veered off the side of the runway and split into two. Thankfully, neither the pilot nor the co-pilot were seriously hurt, though both were taken away for precautionary medical checks, while the airport fire services doused the plane in foam to mitigate any risk of fire. An investigation has been opened.
Coming so soon after Air France’s aborted landing approach of a B777 on 04APR22, due to unresponsive flight controls, it is a stark reminder of the balance required: not all IT and technology is infallible, just as human intervention, too, can have negative or – as in these cases – positive outcomes: “Any landing which does not result in loss of life, is a successful one.”
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