Work and Logistics 4.0. How will digitalization change logistics experts’ work practices?

Transportation and logistics form the structural network underpinning the economy, and for this reason, they are always directly impacted by changes taking place in business and society. Digitalization is another of these transformations. It also entails a host of very specific changes for how logisticians work, and while it will be possible to automate a lot of things in the long term, there will also be new types of jobs and tasks, from data scientists to robot coordinators – there will be all kinds of different possibilities. However, what is changing in how we already work today?

Linda Afsaoui, head of HR marketing at Schenker Deutschland AG, has insights into the issue. “Jobs are undergoing continuous change in era of digitalization. Everything around us is becoming increasingly digital, and, maybe, logistics is affected more than any other sector. To give an example, this development has started at the warehouse, where staff no longer use route cards but are instead issued with digital handheld devices. Use of these digital tools is growing strongly throughout the industry. We can see this development at every hierarchy level, from trainees to experienced managers.”

These changes in the world of work are, ultimately, simply a reflection of what we are all familiar with in our personal lives, where everything is becoming increasingly digitalized – communications, shopping, television habits, car usage, etc. Learning to accept this change has the side-effect of equipping us to handle the opportunities arising from digitalization, including those that open up in the workplace too.

We have some more good news for employees in the “middle age” group of 31-55. An impressive 81% of this cohort think that digitalization is not a source of additional stress at work. This sees them handling the issue better than their younger peers: “Only” 59% of them feel that digitalization does not increase stress levels, a figure that falls to just 56% for employees over 55. Or that was the situation in October 2015 at least, as revealed in a survey released by Germany’s national logistics association. Someone who knows how to use digital workplace techniques but is at the same time at ease with analog processes has an advantage over some of their younger co-workers.

In the workplace, the opportunities entailed in digitalization far outweigh the challenges it poses. Take the digital office, for example – it helps you to find a better way to combine family and work. Then there’s also digital learning for effective further training in your career. These and other digital innovations give you more control over how you work, and employees who joined a company in the pre-digital era normally appreciate these changes a lot more.

Ahead of vocational education institutes

Vocational education schools and colleges are never fully up to speed with major transformations, and teaching people how to work with digital technology requires these institutes to have the very latest equipment. Logistics companies are obliged to counteract this shortcoming.

Linda Afsaoui says, “At DB Schenker, we see a real need to ensure that everyone can use digital technology. This also applies to trainees. Today’s vocational education courses are not capable of addressing digital progress properly. Logistics companies are under considerable pressure to use internal coaching and teaching activities to prepare trainees for future work processes, particularly in connection with digital workflows and work techniques. This is a goal that DB Schenker has set itself, and we are successfully tackling the issue thanks to our in-house training courses.”

“# Robot coordinator for DB #Schenker. How will we work in the #future??“

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Getting agile: Nerds show how it’s done

Traditional job types are currently seeing changes to general workflows and how work is organized. Storekeepers and warehouse clerks may use more digital aids when working, but their work is still that of storekeepers and warehouse clerks. The same goes for MRP controllers. Using digital tools, they can process far larger quantities in a given period of time than they could ten years ago. This is a good thing, too, as the logistics sector is suffering from a serious shortage of trained staff.

What are the new digital workflows like? How has the way work is organized changed? How do we collaborate digitally? How can we develop agility? The best answers to questions like these always come from the people in the thick of things – the tech nerds. You don’t have to go all the way to Silicon Valley for the answers either. DB Group’s technology experts are ready and waiting to hear from you, and DB Systel can show how the digital transformation is also taking root in the workplace. The DB subsidiary started reorienting itself two years ago, and this process has been so successful that HR managers from other corporations in Germany have been lining up to learn a little about agility from the company. Christa Koenen, CEO at DB Systel GmbH, has given a video interview about the process of restructuring a long-established company to create agile structures for the IT summit blog organized by the Hasso Plattner Institute.

Jobs of the future

It isn’t just workflows but also our jobs themselves that will change in the future. A warehouse clerk could, for example, become a coordinator for robots. This would see him/her managing a robot crew, monitoring them for faults and error messages. With the right technical training, he/she could even perform maintenance work, repairing or replacing faulty robots.

An MRP controller could evolve into a data scientist, someone who focuses on extracting unexpected and valuable information from large quantities of data. For example, these experts analyze and integrate the data inventories obtained using enterprise resource planning systems such as SAP and Oracle. They focus on data mining, i.e. combing through databases on the lookout for useful information. While it will still take some time before jobs like these are fully established at companies, digitalization is preparing the groundwork for this development.