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The Labor Shortage in Finished Vehicle Logistics: How to Get More Done with Less

Today, employers everywhere are feeling the frustrations brought on by a tight labor market. In fact, labor turnover is endemic: according to the United States Chamber of Commerce, over 47 million workers quit their jobs in 2021, looking for an improved work-life balance, better conditions, and higher pay.

In short, employees are quitting jobs that they don’t like, and easily finding alternative employment that they do like. And insiders say that the finished vehicle logistics industry has been hit especially hard.

Because it turns out that ferrying vehicles around yards at vehicle assembly plants and downstream transhipment points all day, in all weathers, is one of those jobs that employees don’t like. Especially in torrential rain or hail, or when the temperature is below freezing, or when it’s above 100 degrees.

The Problem: Fewer Employees, Costly Overtime, and Decreased Productivity

The current situation is an invidious positive feedback loop. Employees working on yards and making close to minimum wage are quitting—leaving yard operations short-staffed. As a result, employers are forced to compensate by adding extra shifts on the weekends or lengthening existing shifts.

But from an employee perspective, long shifts and less free time on the weekend serve to make challenging job even more challenging. So now, employees are even more inclined to leave their jobs, only adding to the need for those who remain to work longer hours, in all kinds of weather conditions.

And it’s not just the extra costs of all the overtime pay that drains profitability. Productivity tends to slip as well. And not just through employee fatigue. What happens, say insiders, is that discipline weakens as well, as supervisors come under pressure to limit employee attrition.

The result? An employee grabbing a few minutes’ rest—or even sleep—in a parked vehicle becomes a very realistic possibility. And with up to 25,000 or more vehicles parked on a yard, identifying employees who might be slacking off is very difficult.

The Fix: Much-Needed Accuracy

An effective real-time location system (RTLS) short-circuits this positive feedback loop—and in several ways at that.

First, an accurate RTLS makes it possible for the shuttle bus operator to deliver drivers directly to vehicles, meaning that in inclement weather, they don’t get wet, cold, or over-heated looking for it. Cognosos’ RTLS, for instance, is powered by low-cost wireless-equipped GPS- and Bluetooth-enabled tags, enabling employees to be taken within ten feet of the vehicle’s location—two or three parking spaces, in other words.

Second—and the importance of this cannot be stressed enough—the required vehicle will almost always actually be there. That’s because those wireless-equipped GPS-enabled hardware tags contain on-board accelerometers, which are triggered every time a vehicle is moved. So, with every move, the vehicle’s new location is new captured. Paper-based updates, and the easily forgotten barcode scan are nowhere near as accurate.

Again, employees don’t have to hunt for car. And the need for audit teams—who must spend all day, every day, out in all weathers simply confirming that vehicles are where they are supposed to be—also disappears.

Doing More with Less

Of course, accurate location—and the capabilities it enables—has a sharp impact on productivity. With less time being wasted on non-value-adding activities, employees are more productive. And that means that the work that needs doing can be done with fewer people.

Which, when employees are quitting and  teams are short-staffed, is good news.

But those capabilities also directly impact the reasons why employees are liable to quit. Because they’re spending less time in inclement weather looking for vehicles or confirming that those vehicles are where they’re supposed to be, employees’ working conditions markedly improve. Quit rates fall.

Now, productivity rises, and employee retention improves: a double benefit. Plus, most yard managers would also accept that more experienced teams are also more efficient teams, simply through having better job knowledge.

Beyond that, there are two further benefits stemming from possessing a RTLS that are worth mentioning.

With reliable, predictable vehicle locations, improved scheduling becomes possible. What that means in practice is that when shuttle buses pick up employees after they have driven a vehicle to its new location, they can be taken directly to the next vehicle that they are due to move, rather than returning to base to receive their next movement instruction.

Again, there’s an increase in efficiency.

Better reporting is another capability stemming from possessing a RTLS. Are vehicles driven by the most direct route to their next destination? Does the shuttle bus go by the most direct route? Does the shuttle bus driver accurately deliver employees to where their next vehicle is located?

Again, increased efficiency results.

Final thoughts

When you roll it all together, the arguments in favor of the use of RTLS technology in vehicle assembly plants and downstream transhipment points are compelling.

And especially so in tight labor markets.

When employees are quitting—and are difficult to replace—reducing employees’ tendency to quit, while making more efficient use of those employees that you do have makes obvious sense. At a stroke, productivity increases, and overtime payments reduce.

To learn more about how Cognosos’ RTLS transforms finished vehicle logistics with real-time visibility to vehicle inventory location, get our latest eBook: “Productivity Gains in Real Time: Unlocking ROI in Vehicle Logistics Tracking Solutions.”

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