In recent conversations with managers of large distribution facilities in the U. S., I've found that most of them don't buy into pre-hire training. Many feel “on the job” training is the way to go. That may be fine for corporate “cultural adjustment” and equipment-specific operations, but it's not sufficient for the personal and technical skills required in a warehouse or distribution center.
The institutional education process available through a community college or a vocational education program provides a base knowledge of processes, technology and equipment upon which to build for work in today's logistics settings. Many such programs include teamwork courses and basic business theory as well as a basic math refresher.
Employees can learn the right way to operate machinery and understand expectations employers have for them in terms of teamwork skills. However, formally trained employees are more quickly integrated into the production process. This translates into greater efficiencies when performing tasks such as picking and packing. Formal training also provides necessary industry knowledge, specifically the worker's role in the supply chain and the importance of customer service.
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An employee who has successfully completed a formal warehouse training program can bypass a company's entry level training and move directly to cultural training and equipment-specific training. That employee can also rise quicker in the company's ranks, saving the time and money associated with recruiting for those higher level positions.
Scott Bauer, regional distribution center manager for Safco Products, Isle of Wight, Va., is a strong proponent of hiring people who've completed formal warehouse skills training programs. Without formal training, his entry level personnel require four weeks of training, learning basic skills such as receiving, picking, shipping, inventory and bar code technologies, before they move into production.
“With formal training, employees move into production in one week and my supervisory personnel can be focused on production rather than entry level training,” he says.
Safety and protection of inventory and physical plant are high priorities in the warehouse environment. OSHA regulations and safe operation of forklifts are key components of the curriculum in a formal warehouse training program. Formally trained employees have already developed a mindset of “safety first” and are proficient in basic equipment operations.
Safe operation not only minimizes injury to personnel but also reduces the damage to inventory and physical plant caused by careless or inexperienced operators using material handling equipment. Some firms estimate they lose as much as 1% of their total inventory value to damage through careless operation. Eliminating loss caused by damage is a quantifiable cost savings to the company.
In addition to developing technical skills, the formal education process also screens potential warehouse and distribution employees for necessary behavioral skills such as promptness and teamwork. While enrolled in education programs, students are required to attend class and work in teams with fellow student while demonstrating proficiency in technical skills. Students who fail in these areas are dropped from training programs and cannot provide potential employers with certification of successful completion. On the other hand, for quality applicants, the program's instructors can vouch for the student's skills and leadership potential.
Local community college systems or high school vocational programs can offer prospective employees the logistics skills training programs they need. A few private companies have also developed training programs open to public enrollment. Some of these institutions are willing to offer customized training programs covering specific topics for a particular warehousing firm upon request.
Allan Howie, director of continuing education and professional development with The Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA), is working on bringing institutions offering formal warehouse skills curricula together to share their programs and training techniques. MHIA has also matched institutions seeking material handling equipment for training with firms offering to donate that equipment.
Warehousing and distribution managers would be well served and serve well by being active participants in logistics skills training programs offered by their local community colleges and vocational schools. These professionals can offer valuable input to curricula through membership on school advisory boards. This benefits both the school and local firms since the graduates will have learned the skills these companies need.
Also, by donating older material handling equipment or equipment they no longer need to these schools' training programs, they not only enable a more realistic training laboratory for students, but they realize a tax benefit.
The bottom line is that employees who successfully complete formal warehouse training programs are a more valuable asset to employers. Logistics organizations are constantly seeking new methods to reduce costs through more efficient operations, and pre-trained, pre-screened employees can fill that need. By supporting and enabling these training programs, you can reap dividends that go far beyond your investment.
Col. Will is a retired Marine logistics officer and a member of the Material Handling and Logistics Editorial Advisory Board.