Chain of Thought

Being Human is becoming a Hard Job to Fill

Funny thing about the people who camped outside stores days in advance to be among the first to own Apple’s iPhone 5: It was probably their most prolonged exposure to other flesh-and-blood humans since… the time they camped out for the iPhone 4. After all, once you get your hands on one of these things the need to share physical space with fellow humans dissipates quickly. You can then rush back to your little cocoon and barricade your door against humanity until the iPhone 6 comes out.

Well, you can do that unless you have a job that requires you to work with humans--if you’re lucky enough to be employed. If you’re not employed, your loss of social skills may be keeping you that way. According to almost 20% of employers responding to Manpower Group’s 2012 Talent Shortage Survey, “lack of employability, or soft skills,” was a major reason they had difficulty filling job openings from the existing talent pool.

In years past the warehouse might have served as a refuge for those kinds of folks. But with the growth of e-commerce comes equal growth in e-fulfillment, and now it looks like those “soft” social skills might even be useful in getting those jobs.

I talked with Fab Brasca, vp global logistics for JDA Software recently about trends in e-commerce fulfillment and the topic of missed-deliveries came up. How many times have you, as an e-commerce customer, peeled one of those little UPS sticky notes off your door, saying basically “we were here, where were you?” Miss the UPS driver a second or third time and you have to pick the parcel up yourself at their terminal.

Amazon got smart about this and developed a network of lockers in retail outlets across the country where they could deliver merchandise for customer pickup. Brasca says this is a sign of things to come.

“I can foresee that if the channel continues to grow to a percent that’s really impactful retailers will look for opportunities to partner up with manufacturers and share some of their costs by creating some interesting fulfillment strategies,” he said. “In the consumer electronics world you’re seeing some of the OEM manufacturers leveraging Best Buy as a channel and also having their own web stores, taking the retailer out of the picture. If manufacturers see there’s enough demand and there’s a viable channel to go direct to the consumer there’s a margin benefit.”

The question is, will that create more fulfillment jobs or will the task of receiving all those consumer packages from UPS and loading them into consumer lockers be absorbed by the already overworked associates at the retail outlets hosting those lockers?

I have an idea. Since many employers in the retail world are having trouble finding workers with the soft skills that used to be prerequisites for just being a human among humans, maybe they can break new job candidates in by letting them be locker storage and retrieval agents. A customer coming in to pick up their parcel could give the S&R agent their locker number and that agent could fetch it for them. It would not only give the agent some order fulfillment skills but it would also help him develop the social skills required to become a human being again.... maybe even get a date with someone trying to figure out this locker thing (see video below). The last I checked, there still wasn’t an app for that. Becoming a human being, that is.

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