How AR Can Take the Sting Out of Seasonal Surge Training Costs

Every holiday season, warehouses expand their workforces two times or more to handle peak retail demand that can make or break the entire year. Time spent training and upskilling temporary employees is typically under two weeks for 90 days of work, while many warehousing organizations rehire a good portion of the same seasonal workforce year after year.

However, it still takes classroom training, e-learning, and a certain amount of on-the-job experience before many of the workers can quickly and reliably complete a complex task or adhere to standard procedures.

Workers—even those hired back every year—have to get up to speed on specific tasks and quickly embrace the flexibility needed to deal with changes in pacing and procedure in real-time as orders come in. Even proper training in structured processes can’t account for the pace and expectation in today’s modern warehouse environments.

Augmented Reality in the Warehouse

One key technology in the “warehouse of the future” vision is oriented toward solving this critical talent and productivity problem, and is showing results today. Augmented reality (AR) delivered via smart glasses, provides access to visual information, real-time updates, documents, human expertise, enterprise systems, and step-by-step guidance, smoothing the integration between people, data, and machines in the smart, connected warehouse.

This can be valuable in many ways and has especially strong potential to generate rapid ROI in scenarios involving training seasonal workers.

No more teachers, no more books. With an AR system, training manuals and other printed materials can be made available digitally, where workers can access them as needed on their smart glasses. The same goes for recorded videos and other visual materials like maps and graphics.

Tasks can be broken down into discrete steps and relayed to the worker in real-time, as they are working. This simplifies the process and promotes better retention of information because the trainee is actually doing the task as they are learning it. Providing this information and instruction in a visual form via smart glasses makes it easier to be understood by workers irrespective of language or literacy.

“In our research, we’ve found that companies are able to get new or temporary workers up to speed much faster by using these devices,” said Dr. Randy Bradley, assistant professor of information systems and supply chain management at the University of Tennessee’s Haslam College of Business.

Instant escalation so unanswered questions don’t become unsolved problems. AR can put seasonal workers in direct communication with colleagues and supervisors using real-time collaboration via smart glasses, allowing workers to ask questions on the warehouse floor. This includes the ability to hold an object up to the camera and confirm whether it is correct. Workers can initiate video calls to supervisors to escalate and resolve issues immediately; supervisors can check in with individual workers or broadcast video-conferences to teams on the floor using the same technology.

Repository of Knowledge

Experienced, full-time staff can record videos documenting their informal knowledge, making it easier for new and temporary workers to embrace best practices that are not documented or included in formal training. As employers build a repository of these ad-hoc tips and tricks, they can be made searchable and incorporated into formal training and documentation later.

The 2017 holiday season will see forward-thinking market leaders embracing AR in early deployments to prove out ROI to the industry. Training seasonal workers is definitely a strong scenario to prove the value of the technology, but the benefits don’t end when the New Year begins. A well-architected AR system can also address other issues of productivity, safety, and efficiency in the warehouse year-round using the same basic platform and hardware.

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