WERC: Warehousing a nation
The astounding growth in online transactions among consumers and commercial clients is the new normal. More and more exists in a digital space. For all that the cloud can contain, though, the warehousing industry is as vital as ever for the physical realities of commerce.
Michael Mikitka is the CEO of the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC), the only national association representing warehousing and logistics professionals. As the possibilities for online transactions grow, he says heightened consumer expectations are putting new pressures on warehousing and the supply chain.
“Whether it’s business to business or to consumer, available inventory and speed for delivery significantly defines a company’s competitive advantage.”
While WERC’s niche in the supply chain has historically been contained within four walls, Mikitka says the scope has widened to make room for new and evolving demands of warehousing. Financial and real estate analysts estimate that e-commerce represents approximately 40 per cent of industrial properties and requires three times more physical space than bricks and mortars retailers.
“Obviously, many factors contribute to a business’ success, but we see firsthand how warehousing and logistics is driving competition forward.”
2017 marked WERC’s 40th anniversary. As investments in warehouse facilities grew in the 1970s, so too did the need for a well-defined profession of managers, technicians and laborers.
Government, private or public, manufacturing, retail or hazardous materials — all types of ownership across many sectors needed warehouse infrastructure and it soon became a key element of everyone’s marketing and distribution strategies. Leaders in the field recognized the warehouse’s growing importance and sought to create common ground to support the profession. A small but driven group assembled in 1977 to establish a non-profit organization dedicated to education and research about warehousing.
In defining WERC’s role, Mikitka points to one definition of benchmarking in particular, from Charles Handy, an Irish organizational behavior and management specialist: the discipline of measuring yourself against best practice in any function or field, often in industries very different from your own; to look beyond oneself in setting standards for oneself.
“WERC creates commonalities and best practices across the board, whether it’s an automotive or pharmaceutical warehouse. We’re a bridge that allows all corners of the warehouse world to learn from one another.”
WERC’s flagship resources include a distribution center metrics report, benchmarking and best practices guide, and a salary and wage survey. WERC translates reams of qualitative and quantitative data into meaningful analyses that Mikitka says are central to a company’s ability to be responsive to industry trends and maintain a competitive edge.
A warehouse collective
In and among the reports, webinars and online courses, WERC creates opportunities for its members to exchange experience and knowledge. In addition to an annual conference, there are 20 regional groups, called WERCouncils, that offer more frequent experiences on a local level.
“One of the prime benefits of being a WERC member is building a connection with someone who has similar opportunities and challenges, but comes at them with an entirely different perspective,” says Mikitka. “WERC brings people out of their facilities and introduces them to innovative approaches and solutions that are working for someone else in that very moment.”
One current issue shared among many in the industry these days is labor management. E-commerce is driving the need for more and larger warehouses, but every facility needs staff. Advancements in automation add another dimension.
“With demand still growing and automation still evolving, we don’t yet know the extent of the impact on labor,” said Mikitka. “It’s most certainly a complex issue, but that’s why we need to create networks within our industry through which we can channel a healthy variety of ideas.”
Mikitka points to the numerous other benefits enjoyed by members, including access to the latest trend reports and research findings, savings on self-study and online education, and a comprehensive national member directory and career center. Beyond the tangibles, there’s also the notion of joining for the greater good.
“By being a member of WERC, warehousing and logistics professionals are in turn supporting the success of the industry as whole,” says Mikitka. “WERC is the unifier, the aggregator. It’s the expert contributions from our members that drives our industry forward and sharpens our competitive edge.”
Michael Mikitka, CAE, WERC CEO
Tony Ward, WERC board of directors president and managing director of retail for Accenture Strategy