New generation integrated solutions are an important answer to labor shortage problems, writes Phil Campbell, Sales Director

The evidence of staff shortages is obvious to anyone planning a flight just now – with constant news of flights cancelled, and reports of stressed-out queues at airports, it can feel like a gamble. At the same time Covid, stress, and pay are causing a global crisis in nursing, with the World Health Organization estimating a shortage of 5.9mn staff.

It’s not just aviation and healthcare that’s affected of course. Services are overstretched in many critical sectors, including manufacturing, food processing, agriculture, logistics and retail.

In the UK, unemployment is close to a fifty year low according to figures from ONS (May 2022) and we’re seeing similar labor shortages in other parts of world, with the latest data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce showing 11.4 million job openings – but only 6 million unemployed workers.

According to a report by City & Guilds, staff shortages in the logistics sector in the UK alone is expected to reach 400,000 by 2026 attributed to low pay, poor working conditions, and influences of Brexit.

As a result, employers are finding it increasingly difficult to hire the workers they need.

Some people who used to work in these sectors have found less stressful ways to earn a living, or in the case of some over-50s, have retired – or semi-retired – sooner than they planned. The pandemic workplace shake-up is not over yet, and the global economy is being buffeted new challenges.

But despite the turmoil – or maybe because of it – we’re seeing a shift in attitudes among employers.

Yes, there is a cost-of-living crisis, and it’s going to get worse. But increased pay is not seen as the only answer – or the most important – for many organizations looking to fill vacancies. They are looking at a mix of efficiency gains, and employee benefits, as they look to adapt.

Accuracy of pay and better working conditions help

While unions and employees in many sectors are demanding wage increases, according to the UK HR professionals’ body, the CIPD, offering improved working conditions with more flexible home and hybrid working is also favored solution.

Employers understand that when staff are weighing-up the benefits of a job – whether to apply, move on, or stay – they factor in benefits apart from pay. There are the cost-savings from reduced commuting, and savings that come from being able to manage work-life time more efficiently, as well as the hidden benefits from reduced stress and hassle.

The CIPD’s recent quarterly outlook (April 2022) reported that 27% of employers believed raising wages would help them tackle staff shortages. By contrast, 37% said they were looking to introduce flexible working conditions and upskill existing staff.

Flexible and hybrid working are becoming the established norm in many sectors – most obviously in IT, communications, scientific services, and professional services generally – but also more widely.

Frictionless access is supporting wider strategies

The US, the UK and Canada appear to further along the road than Europe in this move away from fixed desks and default Monday-to-Friday office attendance.

And the reshaping of corporate systems and infrastructures that is supporting hybrid working is not just reactive, it’s aligned with longer term strategies.

Because the same automations and efficiencies that are making it easier for people to work remotely, and to use premises flexibly, are also driving wider productivity benefits.

Implementing new generation visitor management solutions and upgrading access control is allowing employers to remove many of the old annoyances and inconveniences that their staff, and other site visitors, had to put up with every time they arrived on site and had to pass through security.

This is particularly true for workers in the manufacturing and logistics sectors, where staff need to wait to be authorized to pass through barriers to gain entry to car parks, use ID badges to access facilities and then check in and out using time and attendance systems. Compensation accuracy and timeliness of employee pay in these sectors are also critical to staff retention and recruitment strategies.

Today, employees can benefit from touchless, frictionless access, using license plate recognition and mobile credentials. And organizations can benefit from the integration of Microsoft Active Directory that allows then to use access control data to connect to scheduling systems and payroll, eliminating or streamlining cumbersome processes that are prone to human error. This also gives employers the confidence that staff will receive automated, accurate and timely remuneration.

Flexible, secure access control that connects time and attendance with payroll is also helping employers to make these essential jobs more attractive by offering more flexible working patterns.  Some firms are going a step further, utilizing the same credentials to give staff access to daily perks including free coffee and snacks, improving working environments and morale.

The next generation solutions are going even further, strengthening, and extending the connections between remotely based teams and the corporate center. By integrated access control with Microsoft Active Directory, for example, organizations can manage access to multiple, dispersed physical premises – plus logical access to corporate networks and applications – much more effectively.

Efficiency gains for busy teams

In busy workplaces from hospitals to hospitality, airports to logistics hubs, we’re seeing these solutions cutting out the inefficiencies of siloed technologies.

For instance, by integrating AI-powered facial recognition, organizations are strengthening security of their physical premises – facial authentication is providing a powerful ID option – and improving network security and home working security too.

Facial authentication is also enabling better two-way engagement between employees and employers, helping to ensure that staff are taking regular breaks and not allowing work to blur into evenings and weekends, which can quickly lead to stress and burnout.  The same technology allows workers to report a concern or seek emergency assistance. And feedback from the staff using these new, improved two-way communications and engagement technologies is overwhelmingly positive.

It’s also being welcomed by department managers concerned that their staff aren’t being as productive or innovative as they were in the office. These managers can now measure productivity gains or losses, and review the times employees are actively using applications and delivering output. This can signal when team members need reward, inspiration, or guidance. Bosses also have the right tools to meet their duty of care obligations, for example being alerted in the event of a remote working safety incident.

And because these new generation solutions are much more affordable, employers see them as a good option to reduce staff turnover, make employees feel valued, provide better working environments, and to help them work more efficiently.

As economic conditions tighten, those could be very welcome benefits.