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Automation is the future, but Logistics ‘is a people business’

Ian Worboys, MD, Head of European Logistics, Trammell Crow Company

Technology and automation now feature prominently in logistics but it remains a people business, delegates heard at Real Asset Media’s The Future of Logistics investment briefing, which took place this week as part of Transport Logistics online 2021.

“The challenge for developers is always working out what the future will bring and plan accordingly,” said Ian Worboys, managing director, head of European logistics, Trammell Crow Company. “Automation is the future. Already at Amazon 20% of the staff are robots.”

But technological innovations are likely to co-exist with people rather than replace them.

“So much more is possible now, but I cannot imagine a warehouse without people,” said Raimund Paetzmann, vice president corporate real estate, Zalando. “Some buildings have between two and 5,000 people. In future there will be robots working alongside people, but not full automation.”

Technological solutions are being implemented more widely in logistics as the availability, ease of use and costs have changed. But only some activities can be automated.

“Where it’s delicate or expensive you have to have people in the warehouse,” said Sally Bruer, partner, logistics & industrial insight and strategy, Cushman & Wakefield. “Automation will be used to complement people or to increase productivity, like augmented reality goggles to lead the worker to the right shelf to find the product.”

Technology improves the process and it adds efficiency and flexibility, but the human factor is still crucial.

“We’ve got more people working for us than ever before,” said Ben Bannatyne, president, Prologis Europe. “For our customers, labour is the biggest concern and real estate comes second.”

People want healthy workplaces and employers know that

People are also at the centre of decisions on locations of logistics assets. Employers know that people want to work in nice, healthy places that are easy to get to.

“The first problem is finding labour and the second is retaining labour,” said Bannatyne. “You need to offer daylight, clean air and amenities, especially in logistics parks.”

The efforts made in place-making deliver long-term benefits in terms of employee retention.

“There are real challenges around recruitment,” said Bruer. “Labour shortages are cited as the main challenge by 45% of logistics warehouse users, while 50% said that labour is the cost their business is most sensitive to. Which proves that logistics is still a people business.”