One of the lingering effects of a pandemic economy is a labor shortage so pervasive it has its own name: The Great Resignation. As recently as February 2022, there were more than 11 million jobs open in the United States, figures that outpaced economist predictions.
A lot of coverage of the Great Resignation focuses on the service economy, where employers continue to struggle to fill positions. But this labor shortage has also hit the material handling industry hard—especially when it comes to material handling equipment technicians.
Consider this March 2022 reader survey from Modern Materials Handling. The survey asked warehouse operators how many forklift technicians they needed to hire. Results showed:
- 52 percent of respondents were short one to five forklift technicians.
- 22 percent were short six to 25 techs.
- 51 percent agreed with the statement “It’s somewhat of an issue for us to find capable technicians,” both for forklifts and other material handling systems.
- 22 percent said “We have a very difficult time hiring and retaining technicians.”
Addressing this technician shortfall is twofold: Not only do employers need to hire trained techs, they also need to retain the staff they have. That’s a challenge at a time of historic quit rates. In February 2022, more than 4 million workers quit their jobs, nearly matching the previous November’s all-time resignation record of 4.5 million.
So what can operations that rely on forklifts do to respond? Here are a few suggestions.
3 Tips for Responding to the Forklift Technician Shortage
Forklift technicians are less likely to depart for greener pastures when they’re happy where they are. Pay rates and benefits clearly play a huge role in staff retention efforts—but so do the tools and support employees need to work safely, comfortably, and with a minimum of frustrating distractions. The following tips can help create the ideal working environment for forklift technicians—and the forklift operators they support.
1. Streamline forklift maintenance programs with fleet management systems.
With the growth of the Industrial Internet of Things—in which sensors embedded in equipment deliver real-time data to analytics systems—forklift fleet management systems have become essential tools for simplifying forklift maintenance. These platforms track maintenance tasks and schedules, notifying techs when it’s time for preventative work. That removes the burden of tracking, reporting, and scheduling from technicians alone. In short, it makes the tech’s working life easier—which in turn makes them less likely to look for a new position.
For electric lift trucks, choose a battery-focused fleet management system like BHS Fleet Tracker. This comprehensive, IIoT-enabled solution tracks battery charge time, identifies next available battery to ensure proper battery rotation, and monitors every asset in the fleet. It also provides detailed maintenance prompts for techs. Managers get real-time, at-a-glance data on the entire fleet through a web-based portal. Forklift operators and technicians interact with the system through an easy-to-use Operator portal, available on any mobile device.
2. Upgrade forklift support systems.
Staffing shortfalls create a vicious cycle: When you’re understaffed, every tech has to work harder to keep the operation running. That leads to burnout and higher quit rates. To prevent such a downward spiral, empower forklift techs, operators, and support staff to do more with less—which, in the case of electric forklifts, often means advanced battery handling equipment.
If your operators and technicians currently remove forklift batteries with manual equipment, consider upgrading to a powered system. Operator Aboard Battery Extractors allow a single employee to remove and replace side-extraction forklift batteries quickly and ergonomically, reducing the risk of harm and preventing strain on the user’s body.
Battery handling equipment can also streamline battery maintenance, allowing forklift technicians to work more efficiently. Battery Service Stands provide 360-degree access to forklift batteries, while spark-proof, acid-resistant rollers simplify battery placement. Battery Wash Cabinets automate essential cleaning tasks, while Integrated Watering Systems keep battery cells watered to free technicians from the task.
3. Invest in workplace safety, going above and beyond OSHA requirements.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires every employer to operate workplaces that are “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm” to employees. But compliance with OSHA regulations sometimes falls on workers themselves, leading to another level of workplace stress. Employers can take steps to make this safety compliance more convenient and comfortable. Those who do will find it easier to attract and retain employees, including forklift technicians.
For instance, technicians and operators who work with forklift batteries must wear several types of personal protective equipment to prevent contact with electrolyte. If your face shields and rubber gloves aren’t easy to access, they’ll have a frustrating hunt before every battery handling task. Improve morale along with safety by providing everything technicians need in a single place. BHS Personal Protective Kits include a full suit of PPE, from HAZ-MAT boots to chemical splash face shields, all in one convenient package.
As we publish, the technician shortage brought about by the Great Resignation shows no signs of abating. But employers can limit the strain by making it easier—and safer—for existing staff to do their jobs. In time, news about your great workplace conditions will spread, and staff retention efforts start to attract new applicants, too.
For more information about equipment that supports forklift technicians and operators, contact BHS, Inc. at 1.800.BHS.9500.