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After Australian-Style Immigration, can Automation Advance?

Article by James Gore
australian style via passports

How Post-Brexit immigration lets Automation move forward 

Brexit is bringing changes to immigration. The UK Government has announced plans to accelerate the arrival of its new ‘Australian-style’ points based immigration system. By the end of December 2020, the much more unregulated access of EU freedom of movement will come to a close. Instead, specific visa requirements will apply to all UK bound migrants, regardless of nation of origin.

While the entire economy will feel this shift, warehouses will be affected dramatically. For this reason, it is important to understand how a ‘points-based’ system works, its impact on warehouses, and how robots and automated options could step in.

The warehouse sector’s challenge

Warehouses will struggle to replace those who leave because of this new system. According to Indeed.co.uk, based on data from 57,900 employers, the average warehouse picker makes £17,300 per year. Insufficient for a points based visa.

MAC data suggests 19% of UK Warehouse workers are EU/EEA-nationals. While some will receive settled status, many will be leaving. Additionally, new or expanding UK warehouses will be unable to advertise for work internationally.

The state of the warehouse labour market

In 2019, a report published by the UK’s Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport discovered the extent of the warehouse staffing problem. When those employing warehouse pickers were asked “Is your company able to meet its current staffing needs”, only 23% answered “without any difficulties”.

42% of the companies asked citied insufficient job-specific skills as the primary cause of the problem. 29% stated lack of work experience and 25% indicated that low wages were a key factor.

Insufficient domestic options

In October-December 2019, UK unemployment was only at 3.8%. The government believes that 8.45 million ‘economically inactive’ (EI) Britons can take those jobs that migrants move to vacate.

However, most EI individuals cannot work. 27% of EI Britons are students. 26% suffer from long-term sickness. 22% care for family members, and 13% retired pre-65. Approximately 12% cited other reasons for their EI status, leaving around 1% of the EI population – 80,000 people – definitively available for work.

Even if all 80,000 got warehouse jobs, gaps would remain. Migration Observatory data suggests there were 96,000 EU migrant workers in UK warehouse roles in 2018.

Robotic warehouse automation will fill the worker gap

Robots are often thought of as beyond the reach of SME warehouses. However, the technology has reached the point where robots and pickers have comparable costs.

Salaries are only the tip of the warehouse worker cost iceberg. Other costly areas include

Automation systems avoid these issues. They offer warehouses high levels of throughput, as well as excellent efficiency and even higher levels of accuracy. All this, while the wider employment market fluctuates and struggles under these new conditions.

Pickers will prosper

While you might think that automation would make manual workers obsolete, in reality pickers will have much more varied and interesting work. As robotic solutions improve singular roles, such as in the goods-to-person solutions, or the moving packed goods to the despatch station, manual workers can perform a wider range of roles.

Rather than repetitive automatable tasks, manual workers will be able to take on multiple roles at once. These include monitoring goods in, sorting returns, warehouse upkeep, and in automated situations, maintaining the robots.

With more diverse work for manual workers offered by automated warehouses, satisfaction can grow, skills can broaden, and employee retention will rise. Warehouses will be able to enhance the abilities of their employees, leading to a happier, healthier, more productive warehouse.

Striding into the future

This new immigration system the government is proposing will be a big challenge, but challenges bring challengers to the fore. As this new situation gives the UK warehouse system a serious shake up, automated solutions are ready to provide a new source of much needed stability.

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