Companies throughout the logistics sector are focused on finding enough labor to drive trucks and stock warehouses, but too much of that current discussion is focused on thirty-something millennials instead of on the rising generations that will soon replace them, known as Generation Z and Generation Alpha, according to a panel discussion hosted by the industry group MHI.
Although the eldest members of Generation Alpha are barely 10 years old today, they will enter the workforce in just a decade, bringing with them a completely different lens for viewing technology and its place in the workforce than any previous group, speakers said in the online session “Roadmap 3.0 Panel: Transformation Age: Shaping Your Future.”
For example, by 2030, robotics and augmented reality will be in mainstream use for warehousing, manufacturing, and distribution centers, the panelists said. The session was a part of Charlotte, North Carolina-based MHI’s annual Fall Meeting, held as a virtual event this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Those new technologies will be natural tools—not challenging novelties—for the children now growing up around them, according to MHI. Strict definitions vary, but many researchers say millennials (also known as Generation Y) are those who were born between 1980 and 1995, followed by Generation Z with birthdays between 1996 and 2015, and Generation Alpha born between 2010 and 2025.
That workforce of the future will be more diverse, more dispersed, and more highly skilled than their predecessors, said panelist Brett Wood, CEO of Toyota Material Handling.
They have enormous potential to help companies move toward a more technology-enabled future, but many material handling firms will need to adjust their hiring strategies to recruit and retain them, Wood said. For example, the younger generation expects sustainability to be a core value of the company they join, not just a special project. Likewise, they want to work for companies that are good corporate citizens, not merely by writing checks, but by offering their employees paid time off to volunteer at local charities, for example.
For companies that can make those changes, the rewards of landing next-gen employees can be enormous, because the very foundations of technology are already changing around us, said panelist Melonee Wise, CEO of autonomous mobile robot (AMR) vendor Fetch Robotics.
In order to forecast the technology that will be in common use 10 years from now, she pointed at the heritage of today’s robotics and machine learning platforms, many of which were first developed about 20 years ago. Applying that same yardstick to the future, she said that within 5 to 10 years, we’ll see a better leveraging of hosted cloud platforms. “So don’t be afraid of the cloud. That’s where you’ll get the best leverage for your data and capabilities,” Wise said. “One of the biggest limits in robotics is computation power for executing algorithms. The only way to do it is to scale up, and you can do that in the cloud.”
Another implication of the rise of cloud computing will be new applications in edge computing, also known as “the fog” because it is neither nailed to the floor nor hovering virtually in the cloud, but living somewhere in between, like robots, Wise said.
As well as hiring a new generation of workers who are comfortable with that approach, logistics sector companies must also demand more of their leaders, said panelist Nara Eechambadi, CEO of Quaero, a customer data platform provider. “Companies need a more data-centric mindset, not just about raw data but about analytics and insights,” he said. “We need to democracize data, make it available so people can use it to make better decisions and do their jobs better.”
According to Eechambadi, American business executives too often defer to their company’s chief technology officer (CTO). Instead, they should emulate savvy European business leaders, who learn the basics of new technologies themselves. While executives don’t have to be experts, they do need to know how to ask the right questions, he said.
Fortunately, executives can start boosting their technology games right now, because the essential infrastructure is already available, in the form of cloud-based computing and open-source software development. So leaders need to focus on interoperability and adaptability with those trends, and avoid getting bogged down in trying to duplicate the same foundation within their own companies, Eechambadi said.