Faces of YWG: Supply Chain team overcomes COVID-19 obstacles

Tucked away in the basement of Winnipeg Richardson International Airport, a small group of employees diligently work away in a massive warehouse to stay one step ahead.

In a way, their job during these uncertain times is like trying to predict the future. Day in and day out, the team is anticipating and strategizing the critical steps needed to keep YWG operating and also to keep all travellers, visitors and staff safe from COVID-19.

“Everything is constantly changing,” said Neil Dhillon, Supply Chain Manager at YWG. “We have to be nimble and have foresight to see where the situation is going.”

Each of the three members of the airport’s supply chain team plays a crucial role in making sure valuable supplies such as hand sanitizer, cleaning solution and personal protective equipment are always available. Keeping shelves fully stocked though becomes extremely tough when a pandemic grips the globe.

Before COVID-19, YWG was going through a 1.2 litre jug of hand sanitizer roughly every two weeks. Ten bottles are now being emptied every week. It’s a substantial increase in use under normal circumstances but even more so when the terminal was extremely quiet. During the first few months of the pandemic, passenger traffic at the airport plunged by 95 per cent while many Winnipeg Airports Authority employees worked from home.

“We had to tailor our approach in this regard to make bigger purchases to last us longer,” said Dhillon. “Generally, we put in an order once a month or once every two weeks. We were bringing in three months’ worth of stock at a time because we knew if we didn’t, we were going to run out.”

As YWG was placing orders for supplies to combat COVID-19, so was everyone else. The skyrocketing demand meant the availability of supplies quickly shrunk. Certain sanitizers and cleaners are completely sold out until at least January 2021. Shipments were also delayed as items were re-routed to hospitals or areas with higher volumes of cases.

“It was really, really challenging because the supply is limited, the time it takes for it to be delivered is unknown and our usage is really undefined,” said Jeff Dyck, Supply Chain Coordinator. “Typically you want to have the majority of those questions answered before you place an order.”

Luckily, the airport’s supply chain team stockpiled early, leaned on valuable relationships with vendors, cultivated new working partnerships and came up with unique solutions to make sure they always had supplies in stock.

“We were able to procure a bunch of N95 masks but weren’t able to get hand sanitizer,” said Blair Wizniak, Warehouse Coordinator. “Another local organization had hand sanitizer but not masks so we traded supplies like that. The fact we never ran out, that’s a huge accomplishment for us.”

A feat that features the benefits of a solid supply team and staff committed to service excellence. Without knowing when an emergency situation may arise, it is important to establish strong working relationships in advance and have a plan to source supplies on a moment’s notice to ensure the safety of all.

“If it wasn’t known before, it’s definitely known now how our industry is a vital part of any business,” said Dhillon. “This just really showed it. If you don’t know where your stuff is coming from, don’t have good relationships with your vendors and don’t have the foresight to plan your buying, you can really get behind the eight ball. Luckily, we had that expertise and were able to come out ok.”

Faces of YWG is a profile series on the people working around the Winnipeg Richardson International Airport who help the Winnipeg Airports Authority go above and beyond.

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