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Develop Warehouse Skills That Can Help You Get Ahead

Worker in warehouse with boxes

With recent indications that major employers are seriously invested in the quality of their warehouse employees, warehousing jobs are more attractive now than they have been in the recent past.

Are you developing the right skills to get ahead and earn more money? What types of jobs are the next step (e.g., supervisor), and the one after? Or what are the various career paths? What specific skills do you need to get to the next step? How much experience do you need? Are there any less physicall demanding jobs you can get in the warehouse? Do you have the right skills already but don’t know it?

To answer those questions, we asked Aerotek Account Manager Reid Johnson and Recruiter Hadeed Aseel for advice. They both specialize in finding candidates for positions in the busy logistics hub of Indianapolis, giving them an in-depth understanding of the evolving warehousing job market.

Get a foot in the door

Like in any industry, prior job experience makes a difference in how much you’ll be able to earn — and what positions you’ll be able to fill — in the warehouse. The trick is getting experience in the first place. Fortunately, many warehousing companies offer seasonal employment opportunities that include new employee orientation programs. It’s a great way to gain some “prior experience.”

How much prior experience is necessary for advancement in future positions? A little bit can go a long way. Generally, it’ll be enough to tell a prospective employer that you’ve worked on a given system or piece of equipment before, and then confidently respond to follow-up questions about the particulars of how you operated them.

Know your next step

Before working in a warehouse, think about what leadership positions you might like want to rise to. Team leader, shift leader, logistics manager, facility supervisor, operations supervisor, general manager — each of these represent a bump in responsibility and pay, and each is available as a career path to those who start in the warehouse.

Take care of the basics

Before you can develop any specialized skills in the warehouse, you have to cover the basics. Showing up on time every day, ready to work is a must. Being trusted to clear that bar is the only way to advance your career or broaden your options between types of warehouse opportunities.

Showcase your personality

People with prior warehouse experience receive top consideration for available positions, but an influx of warehouse candidates from other industries may also be competing for jobs on the basis of their “soft skills” such as leadership ability, reliability and problem solving.

“All other things being equal, you can't beat someone with a good attitude who you can count on to be a team player and do what's asked of them,” says Johnson.

While you’re on the job, look for ways to prove yourself motivated, positive and responsible. These qualities will help you get noticed in your current position, and will also help you stand out if you find yourself looking for other opportunities.

Qualify for less physically demanding jobs – if that’s what you want

Because of the appearance of less physically demanding hybrid jobs, any prior professional experience you have — whether it’s in warehousing or not — is worth including on an application or mentioning in an interview.

Those with a varied employment background may qualify for positions with mixed responsibilities that are starting to become a part of warehouse environments.

“Some companies are looking for people who can fill hybrid-type jobs, where the employee does equipment operation 25 percent of the time, data entry 25 percent of the time and whatever else is needed in between,” says Johnson.

Explore on-the-job training options

If prior experience and a reliability are desirable skills for warehouse employees, what “prior experience” is the most important, and how do you get it?

“Equipment operation experience is relatively rare among warehouse employees, so any chance to learn on stand-up and sit-down forklifts or reach trucks can make you more marketable,” says Johnson.

Most warehousing companies offer ongoing on-the-job training to their employees. The best companies are really good at it. If your job offers training programs — especially for equipment or software — jump at the opportunity.

“The more different kinds of experience you have, the more marketable you are, and that always opens you up to more opportunities,” says Aseel.

Learn and communicate your interests

Taking advantage of varied on-the-job training also helps you understand what tasks you enjoy most, which can help you define what path to take as your career unfolds.

Ask Aerotek: How to Build a Career Starting in the Warehouse

Once you know what you’d prefer to do, the next step is communicating that preference to your manager. Warehouse employers and their recruiting partners tend to be receptive to the information, since they prefer hiring employees who stay longer.

“Warehouse jobs get better and better when you’re able to communicate what you like doing, whether that’s being on equipment 100 percent of the time, or going for a more active manual labor-type workout,” says Johnson, “because that helps you decide which positions you’re really interested in.>

Find the best fit

How you feel about what you’re doing plays a big role in how easily you’ll develop new skills and get promoted. That’s why fit is a crucial component of your development in a warehouse.

While most warehouse employees are primarily concerned with pay as the top way to decide between jobs, a few additional concerns that can make the difference between a great job and an okay job.

For example, take a look at culture and amenities to help you evaluate whether the company really values its employees or not. Something as simple as a “The companies that have taken positive steps to improve their working environments, and offer a good competitive wage or above-market wage to go with it tend to really excel,” says Johnson.

Aleel adds, “In addition to compensation like wages and benefits, location matters to a lot of people. Not everyone has reliable transportation, and a longer or more expensive commute can change the equation of whether or not a small pay raise is worth it.”

See what’s available

As jobs in warehousing become more attractive, skills are likely to mark a key difference between who gets ahead and who just gets by. If you want to get on a better track to skills development, or are curious about what’s out there, now’s a good time to take a look.