A non-binary person with autism with mobility issues, a married father of three forced to move his family hundreds of miles to more affordable housing, and a disabled Israeli veteran. What they all have in common is that they work thousands of miles away from warehouse and material transport equipment which they operate remotely using technology developed by the company Phantom Auto of the Silicon Valley.
For the entire logistics sector, which is facing a severe shortage of manpower, this technology is essential to attract employees for jobs with long hours, requiring physical effort, long journeys and which may involve working in inhospitable weather conditions.
According to the latest data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, in November 2022 there were 1.27 million manufacturing and warehouse positions open with only 759,000 new hires.
Brant Ring, CEO of international logistics company ITS Conglobal, presented Forbes.com with the challenge of attracting people to take jobs such as operating construction trucks, noting that “we are limited to people who are already predisposed and inclined to do this kind of work and people who are inclined to do this kind of work have more attractive alternatives.
One of these “more attractive alternatives” is becoming Phantom Auto’s remote operation technology.
“Phantom’s vehicle-agnostic remote operating software enables highly skilled operators to remotely monitor, support and operate fleets of unmanned vehicles thousands of miles away,” explained Elliot Katz, co-founder and commercial director of Phantom Auto. “By decoupling labor from location, we are creating a larger labor pool, which includes net new workers who had not been able to perform logistics work before.”
One such worker is Harmony Pollack. Self-identifying as non-binary who suffers from vertigo and is on the autism spectrum, Pollack was unable to continue in her job as a cook at a restaurant in suburban Detroit because standing for long periods was becoming a challenge. challenge. The situation left them unemployed for about three years.
The restaurant where Pollack worked is operated by the West Bloomfield, Michigan-based organization The Friendship Circle, which supports people with special needs. The head of the organization had been in contact with Katz and approached Pollack about a job.
Pollack now has a paid job and is grateful. “I drive forklifts remotely,” she proudly told Forbes.com. “My forklift is currently in the state of California. I am in Ypsilanti, Michigan which is not in the state of California. I can apparently drive eight hours a day with no problem.
Israeli military veteran Arnon Amit was injured while serving and now uses a wheelchair. He told Forbes.com employment after his injury 14 years ago has been quite sporadic. But now he operates forklifts located in the United States and conducts research to improve the system for a wide variety of disabled people from Phantom’s office in Tel Aviv.
“It’s given me a job that’s meaningful to someone, and then it’s rewarding and I mean, life-changing,” Amit said. “It has definitely changed the way I operate and on a day-to-day basis it gives me a steady job.”
Alex Blazquez is a prime example of how being able to work remotely actually prevented someone already employed in the industry from leaving.
After working for IKEA in the San Francisco Bay Area for 11 years in various warehouse roles, including driving a forklift, he was laid off in 2021. That’s when he started to work as a remote operator for Phantom.
When the married father of three lost the lease on the condo his family was renting at a cut rate, Blazquez quickly discovered he couldn’t find a new home in the expensive neighborhood he could afford on his current salary. and he didn’t want to move. , quitting his well-paying job. He must have it all.
Blazquez and his wife had purchased a home near Helena, Montana, which they hoped to turn into an investment, perhaps managing it as a vacation rental property. Instead, the family moved into the house in the much cheaper area. Phantom has installed equipment in his room where he operates 25 to 30 forklifts a day across multiple states.
“Every two minutes you want to step back and say wow, that’s crazy. Crazy technology for how crazy technology has gotten to the point where I can operate a forklift 1000 miles away,” Blazquez said from his bedroom/workplace.
Blazquez, Pollack and Amit are among about 50 people who remotely operate forklifts or construction trucks using the Phantom system for the company’s various international customers. Most work in Phantom operations centers while some work from home.
Katz says demand is high for remote equipment operators, noting, “We are actively recruiting operators to keep pace with deployment and aim to have hundreds of operators this year.”
Operators complete Phantom’s Remote Operator Training which includes both classroom instruction and hands-on instruction. They must also obtain OSHA certification and pass a final exam.
The training “is designed so that any Phantom trainee, regardless of previous operational experience, can develop the skills necessary to operate safely and effectively remotely,” Katz said.
At ITC Conglobal, Phantom technology is being used not only to operate construction trucks, but also to deliver remote learning to training operators – a capability that has become particularly important for creating safe distance during the Covid pandemic. -19, Ring said.
Indeed, Ring emphasizes that the use of remote operators does not result in any job loss for on-site drivers due to labor shortages or reduced efficiency. In fact, he says, it translates into hiring more people.
“Whether an in-cab operator performs 10 moves per hour and in the case of a remote operator performs eight moves per hour, it doesn’t matter,” Ring said. “Because if I can’t find someone to sit in the cab and do the 10 moves per hour, they’re not making any movies per hour, that’s right. Ultimately, we’ll hire more people, we will retain more people, our workforce will be more diverse and we will be a more resilient company.
The company is so confident in the Phantom tech Ring said the company placed the largest truck fleet order enabling the use of this technology arriving in 2023 arriving in the first half of this year. They are all allocated to ITC Conglobal customers.
As the larger workforce has become accustomed to working remotely, this option has become a requirement for many job seekers.
According to a survey of job seekers by McKinsey & Co., “arranging flexible work, e.g. remote work” was the third most important motivator when looking for a new job.
This means that the ability to work remotely can not only attract new employees, but also retain existing workers. Katz points out that this also means providing job opportunities for people like Pollack and Amit who otherwise might not be able to handle a position there.
“For example, about 75% of adults with autism are unemployed and about eight in 10 people with disabilities were not in the workforce in 2021,” Katz said. “Our technology enables these highly skilled workers who want and need to work to fill essential jobs that must be filled to keep our supply chain intact.”
As one of those autistic people who is now finally employed after a fruitless and frustrating job search, Harmony Pollack is both grateful and nostalgic for the opportunity offered by Phantom to play a small part in alleviating the shortage. of labor in the logistics sector and earn a living. despite the challenges, remarking, “So being inside a vehicle is problematic and yet I still drive vehicles for a living, which is amazing, ridiculous, but it works.”