Warehouse Professionals — Skills for Success and How to Get Ahead
As more and more of our consumer shopping and business moves online, one industry is in serious growth mode — warehousing and fulfillment. This accelerated growth means increasing opportunities for American workers. We spoke with one of the industry’s rising stars as well as an Aerotek account manager to get a sense of what all this business and job growth feels like on the ground.Baseball as proving ground
Jeff Toth knew from an early age what he wanted to be when he grew up. “A professional baseball player,” he told us on a recent phone call. “That was my dream, and I made it come true.” Jeff told us about his journey to where he is right now as an operations training leader in the fast paced, high volume warehousing and production industry.
Jeff is one of those professionals we see in almost every trade, who are born to be great trainers. After realizing his dream of playing professional baseball, he decided to put his teaching degree to use. After three years of working as a substitute teacher, he decided to find a fulltime position in a new industry. He told us, “I started coaching in baseball and I had a knack for it, and I really liked it. At the same time, I was doing temporary teaching but there was little consistency. I needed something to count on. I’m into structure and a schedule, and I wasn’t getting either. So, I began floating my resume out there. A gentleman named Matt Naples with Aerotek gave me a call. That was the beginning of my next chapter.”Humbly starting over
The position Matt was recruiting Jeff for was a picker in an automotive parts warehouse. “My first role was one of the humblest in the warehouse, fulfilling orders by picking parts for shipping to customers. One thing I was attracted to immediately were the stats. Like baseball, this business is filled with numbers and stats. As an athlete I really liked that, and I focused on that as I learned the warehouse trade. It worked, because after two months the company hired me on as a full-time permanent employee.”Growth industry
Mike Crivaro is an Aerotek account manager in Phoenix. We asked Mike what he was seeing in his market regarding business growth and job opportunities in the warehousing and production sector. “It’s growing, bigtime. We have new warehouse and distribution centers going up almost constantly. Businesses like major retailers and ecommerce platforms are driving a lot of the expansion. But also companies making everything from potato chips to automobiles. As people move their shopping and buying online, having these warehouses and shipping hubs in local markets is becoming critical. Obviously, all this industrial growth is great for people looking for work.”Working in a high tech world
According to Mike the tools and machines of the 21st century warehouse are evolving. “These facilities being built are high-tech from the start, with many processes enabled by automation and technology. Even the traditional warehouse equipment like forklifts and pallett jacks are advanced technology machines now. The new warehouse production worker is often armed with handheld receivers, RF scanners and remote communications headsets.”
We wondered if all this technology was changing the type of worker we look for and recruit. “Yes, we used to focus on hiring people with light industry skills, traditional picking and packing. We still hire a lot of those people, but we also need skilled trade technicians to work with and maintain all this technology. In some of the highly automated warehouses we’re hiring skilled maintenance mechanics, electricians and IT support staff. Today’s warehouse really is a high tech world.”Chasing perfection
Jeff Toth told us how he was leveraging the skills he acquired from his previous careers in sports and teaching in his evolving role within the warehouse. “In this business there are literally thousands of details that matter. And the pressure is on to perform to maximum accuracy in a very high-paced work environment. In the beginning, everything was a bit of a blur but I kept up. Then I made my first mistake after a month. I’m a bit of a perfectionist so this wasn’t a good moment. That’s when I started to blow it out of the water when it came to accuracy and performance.”
“We compete with sister warehouses from other regions, and one of them consistently beat us on accuracy. I’m competitive by nature, but there’s something deeper. My training in professional sports instilled in me a drive to continually try to close the gap toward perfection. I tell myself — and now I tell the people I train — if you’re not trying to be perfect, you’re going to fall short.”
Jeff clearly practices what he preaches, and in 2016 he was awarded the company-wide award for perfect attendance. “Yeah that was cool. But, I’ll tell you, there was one or two days in there where I was a little under the weather. I’m not sure how I made it in and through the shift. But I did.” Jeff made it clear that early success in this industry comes from a few fundamentals: showing up, being on time and working hard.
The competing warehouse that was beating Jeff’s warehouse stats when he first showed up? That’s history: “We now take that accuracy award, every quarter. It’s a good feeling, getting as close to perfect as possible.”Desire to inspire
Jeff began informal training of his newer work colleagues on his own, after only five months on the job. “They saw I had a skill for it so they made me a training coordinator. Pretty soon, they were sending me to our Dallas distribution center to train their warehouse staff — picking, packing, shipping, receiving, first shift, second shift and third. I train them all.”
We asked Jeff about his style as a trainer and coach. “I learned from personal experience that as long as you can take feedback and correction and learn how to apply it, you will succeed. I tell my trainees that I will make them successful by a simple technique — follow the process. I also believe that winners aren’t surprised by the results when they win. When I’m training people, this is my approach. I think it’s a critical step in all our careers. It’s a lot like preparing for baseball. Training, combined with the desire to win, is the key to career success.”
Jeff Toth appears courtesy of Account Recruiting Manager Matthew Naples.