Vivien Tay of Zebra Technologies discusses how technology and workers’ satisfaction are key for ASEAN's trade hub.

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Strengthening Singapore’s Position as ASEAN’s Trade Hub: Technology and Workers’ Satisfaction are Key

Article was written by Vivien Tay, APAC Vertical Marketing Solutions Lead for Warehousing, Transport & Logistics, Zebra Technologies

The vulnerabilities of the global supply chains became apparent in the early days of the pandemic. Inevitably, many ASEAN countries are experiencing the side effects of such gaps and have been exploring new ways to further strengthen supply chains amid COVID-19 recovery. However, to date, warehouse operators in ASEAN including those in the region’s trade hub, Singapore, are still facing labor shortages, inventory accuracy, and visibility issues due to increased shipment volumes and unexpected delays. With online shopping in ASEAN expected to be worth USD 172 billion in 2025 (2.8 times what it was in 2020), more help is surely required in warehouses and factories.

Vivien Tay, APAC Vertical Marketing Solutions Lead for Warehousing, Transport & Logistics, Zebra Technologies

Vivien Tay, APAC Vertical Marketing Solutions Lead for Warehousing, Transport & Logistics, Zebra Technologies

Despite the labor shortages, here is still hope for recovery. In the latest Zebra’s Warehousing Vision Study, 89% of warehouse associates in APAC say positive workplace changes are happening amid labor shortages. Warehouse operators are making significant investments to better fulfill the needs of both customers and workers and make it easier to fill open jobs. Employers are also reported to improve work conditions in other ways, such as giving the right technology to use on the job and leveraging technology to create more flexible work shifts. As highlighted by my Zebra colleague, Hozefa Saylawala, Director of Sales in Middle East & Africa, a byproduct of such rapid technology rollouts is that workers can receive the real-time information and on-demand assistance required to do more each day without working harder.

In the same vein, Singapore is well-positioned to combat the challenges brought about by the pandemic. Sitting at the center of a web of trade routes, Singapore’s strategic location in the heart of Asia allows businesses all over the world to access the region’s markets. To further strengthen and secure its spot as the leading trade and industrial hub, Singapore must work with businesses to capitalize on its workforce and augment it with automation to raise worker effectiveness and efficiency.

Top contenders for providing relief to workers

Front-line workers are placing their bets on wearables and rugged tablets that can run augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications, as well as serve as vehicles for real-time task guidance. Mobile printers are also going to become more prevalent as operators push to minimize walking and fulfill orders quicker. Notably, there is a heightened interest to use mobile dimensioning software that automates parcel and carton measurements. This will be welcomed news for those who want to offload a tape measure from their toolbelts.

Interestingly, the same Zebra study reports that warehouse associates are no longer hesitant to welcome autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) into their workspaces. From the workers’ perspective, nearly 80% say walking fewer miles per day would make their jobs more enjoyable, even if they had to pick or handle more items, and many now strongly believe AMRs could make warehouse jobs less stressful. Most associates (83%) who work alongside AMRs today confirm their productivity is up and walking/travel time is down. Around three-quarters also claim they are making fewer mistakes, and nearly two-thirds credit AMRs for their advancement into new roles or opportunities.

In fact, in recent years, technology advancements are making the warehouse environment more attractive to workers, especially in times when supply chains are strained and more help is needed. Eighty-three percent of current associates surveyed are more likely to work for an employer that gives them modern devices to use for tasks versus an employer that provides older or no devices.

Workers’ satisfaction is key

The Zebra study respondents believe automation may help keep more people in their jobs and fill empty ones. As such, warehouse operators are spending a considerable amount on technologies that support workforce augmentation and workflow automation. In fact, 27% of warehouse operators globally and in APAC have already deployed some form of AMRs today. Within five years, that number is expected to grow to 92% in APAC and 90% worldwide. Additionally, 85% of warehouse decision-makers say they have implemented mobility solutions, and most feel they are properly optimizing the use of such devices right now to fit task, safety, and ergonomic requirements. Employers are also leveraging technology to create more flexible work shifts, which is necessary to stay ahead of the competition and attract the best talent in the industry, amidst the intense labor crunch in the ASEAN region.

Warehouse operators and decision-makers are also looking at building and modernizing their infrastructure by investing more in radio frequency identification (RFID) and industrial automation systems. These advanced technologies enable greater visibility, real-time guidance and data-driven performance and simultaneously aim to increase team productivity. In doing so, warehouse operators are aiming to improve worker well-being and overall market competitiveness.

Building the resilience of the warehouse ecosystem starts today

There needs to be greater collaboration between supply chain nodes to strengthen the resilience of the warehouse ecosystem. With greater collaboration, technological advancements can happen faster to transform operations and meet customers’ increasing demands. Businesses can also expect workers to be more empowered and find their jobs more enjoyable. Workers who work alongside technology such as automation will observe increased productivity, reduced errors, and enabled advancement to new roles or opportunities.

Warehouse operators in ASEAN should start making bold moves now to move away from paper-based processes and old business systems. On top of that, they must see current technology plans and projects through to completion. The future stability of the workforce and the ability to meet customer expectations depends on the actions taken today.

The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Tech Wire Asia.