Tuesday 9th Mar, 2021

Automation the answer for labour shortages

The demographics of the workforce are changing, making it harder for businesses to secure manual and seasonal labour. Braden Goddin, Sales and Marketing Manager at Aurora Process Solutions, says automation may be the answer.

The demographics of the workforce are changing, making it harder for businesses to secure manual and seasonal labour. Braden Goddin, Sales and Marketing Manager at Aurora Process Solutions, says automation may be the answer.

Many traditional blue-collar industries are shrinking in comparison to the services economy, according to the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook, April 2018.

Braden Goddin, Sales and Marketing Manager at Aurora Process Solutions has seen the change firsthand, hearing from customers around Australia and New Zealand about the difficulty of securing manual and seasonal labour.

“This can significantly impact a business’s efficiency and growth through lost time and reduced process uptime,” he says.

“It’s especially frustrating when demand for your product is peaking. The current COVID situation with restrictions on travel and worker proximity is only exacerbating the problem.”

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A key reason for the current era of labour shortages is due to the retirement of the baby boomer generation.

The Australian Parliamentary Budget Office’s 2019 report titled Australia’s Ageing Population shows how this baby boomer generation, in conjunction with a substantial increase in female workforce participation, boosted economic growth in the early 1970s to the early 2000s.

Now, this trend has changed, and the proportion of the working-age population is beginning to shrink.

However, according to the Reserve Bank of Australia’s 2018 report, Labour Market Outcomes for Younger People Bulletin, the next generations have not stepped in to fill the void. It found the participation of people aged 15-24 saw a steep decline in recent years.

What was once 25 per cent of the workforce in the 1980s has shrunk to around 15 per cent.

“While largely this means these young men and women are taking up tertiary education in order to greatly benefit society, it also means there are far fewer workers stepping up to work on your packaging line,” Goddin says.

“Young people are gravitating toward polytechnics and universities. They are far less likely now than they were 20 years ago to graduate high school and begin working in a factory or a warehouse. This is amplified in rural areas where the young move to cities earlier in their careers, reducing even part time participation in industry.

“Again, our team see process lines across urban and rural Australasia manned by aged workers and business managers at a loss to know how to replace them.”

Workplaces of the future

One way Aurora aims to help small-to-medium enterprises navigate this challenge is through automation.

The company provides end-to-end services for manufacturers of bulk products, including grain, seed, flour, cement, and stockfeed. Its products include semi- and fully-automated machinery to automate the packaging, conveying, conditioning and palletising of commodities.

Goddin says automation can help manufacturing and packaging SMEs, which often have limited options to combat the difficulty in sourcing reliable labour.

“They can increase pay in the hope of attracting and retaining labour. However, as noted earlier there are strong social and behavioural influences on supply that are proving simply too strong to match,” he says.

“Now more than ever, business leaders need to seriously consider automation as a solution, from rural SME’s through to corporates.

“Where we are increasingly seeing success is when employees keep their loyal and valued workers and meet the shortfall of basic and seasonal labour by implementing automation in their process line.”

In many cases, the team at Aurora find the benefits of automating pallet stacking or bag filling and closing can exceed expectations.

In addition to helping solve potential labour unit issues, the company finds its customers need to invest less into associated costs like recruitment, management, superannuation, leave, and the cost of rework.

Goddin says there is also something to be said about freeing humans from mundane, repetitive and physically intense jobs and putting them into fulfilling positions that add more value to the process.

“Ultimately, we want to automate the inhuman, and provide businesses the means to both de-risk their operations, build resilience and increase their competitiveness in domestic and international markets,” he says.