Upskilling a Workforce to Enable Warehouse Automation

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Snapshot

An e-commerce innovator needed a creative solution to fill a massive skills gap in automation maintenance. Aerotek built a program that combined hands-on and classroom and training to take workers from low-skilled warehouse jobs to advanced automation technician careers.

Results:

  • Designed proof-of-concept project to upskill workers with no experience
  • Managed 45 apprentices in hands-on and classroom training
  • Apprentices earned 100% pass rate on all certification tests taken to date

Challenge

As one of the world’s leading retail and e-commerce companies, our customer was projecting massive growth in the next six years. Their goal was to open an additional 600 distribution centers across the U.S., but they didn’t have the recruiting resources to staff the estimated 22,000 maintenance and operations specialists that would require. Moreover, the company projected that the national candidate pool wasn’t large enough to accommodate their needs.

To spearhead the vast expansion, the company created a state-of-the art apprenticeship program that would provide upskilling opportunities for their entry-level warehouse workers, allowing them access to the talent they needed within their own company. With the goal of licensing an initial 45 employees in a variety of technical disciplines, apprentices would have to complete a rigorous 3.5-year certification course. To get the program up and running, our customer sought a true partner — someone with the ingenuity required to run an ambitious proof-of-concept venture.

Solution

Our customer has maintained a successful partnership with Aerotek for over five years. We have regularly solved staffing and business challenges by meeting critical hire dates for a variety of technical skill sets across the country. Because we’ve met such difficult delivery challenges, our customer trusted us to help implement and manage their apprenticeship program. The program would aim to develop career advancement opportunities and achieve zero-touch warehouse operations through cutting-edge robotics maintained by an upskilled workforce.

We collaborated with our customer to create a customized curriculum involving combined classroom learning and hands-on training that would allow apprentices to acquire one NOCTI and eight PMMI certifications in subject matter areas such as automation, mechanics, manufacturing and workplace competency. The in-depth certification process involved online and hands-on training as well as rigorous skills testing, so we hired five skilled program leads with backgrounds in technology and classroom training to offer guidance and performance management. Aerotek program leads provided daily oversight and coaching to help keep apprentices motivated and on track to meeting certification goals.

Our customized performance management program included daily touchpoints with apprentices, offering ongoing visibility into progress and providing a platform to address employee concerns and opportunities for improvement. We regularly communicated insights to our customer’s program managers, which helped us collaboratively identify program gaps, improve processes and ensure we exceeded their expectations.

Finally, to enrich the learning experience, we partnered with a local university, which provided the college-level learning material required for accreditation as well as classroom training one day per week. We also administered precertification exams to ensure the workers remained productive and were prepared to pass all requirements.

Results

Within the first year of the program, Aerotek has helped 45 apprentices receive a 100% pass rate on the first two of the nine required certifications. The program is ongoing, and all apprentices are on track to achieve the additional seven certifications. Each employee has also become eligible for promotion to automation technician, laying the foundation for our customer to begin widespread automation of their warehouse operations.

By successfully managing the entire apprenticeship program, Aerotek has allowed our customer’s program managers to focus on developing hundreds of nationwide distribution centers. The program has been such a success that our customer requested our help launching four innovative program centers that will house their retail operations division’s tech and management functions. This initiative will further promote their goal of expanding operations as the forerunner of e-commerce innovation.