A warehouse worker’s job tends to vary somewhat depending on the specifics of the warehouse and what is stocked or processed there, but this person’s primary tasks usually have to do with selecting, organizing, and processing merchandise. He or she may be responsible for filling orders, for instance, which often requires finding items from bulk storage, sorting them, and then preparing them for shipment or delivery. This person may also be in charge of keeping warehouse merchandise organized. Operating heavy machinery like forklifts is usually part of the job, but understanding computer databases and electronic ordering systems can be just as important in many cases.
Warehouses usually serve as the primary storage facilities for almost any company that has goods to sell. Items are usually shipped straight to the warehouse from the manufacturer or farmer, and from there make their way to stores and customers’ doorsteps. Getting everything organized so that it can be easily found and retrieved when needed is one of most important tasks of the people who work in these settings.
Different warehouses have different organizational schemes, but the job usually involves a lot of sorting and placement tasks. Workers follow maps and charts to learn where certain things should go, and in some cases actually help devise those plans in the first place. Things that are shipped or ordered with some frequency are usually placed where they can easily be retrieved and packaged, for instance, whereas bulkier items or things that don’t sell as often may be stored in far corners or high-up shelves.
Some warehouse workers spend their whole careers in inventory organization. This can be as simple as unloading boxes and determining where different items should go, but it often involves actually placing those items, too. Workers tend to spend a lot of time on their feet moving things around, and often operate machinery like forklifts and pallet-movers for items that are heavy or packaged in bulk.
Shipping and Receiving Functions
Before organization can happen, though, goods need to be processed into the warehouse, and in most cases processed out, too. Shipments usually come in via truck, train, or cargo ship, and are usually unloaded on special receiving docks. Workers wait for the shipments to arrive, catalog exactly what is in them, and then set about determining where they should go or what should happen to them.
Things go out, too. When customers place orders or stores need to be restocked, warehouse staff are usually the ones to pull things off the shelves and package them up for delivery. This usually happens in several steps. First, when the order comes through, whoever is in charge of shipping — usually a manager — will fill out a requisition order that specifies exactly what needs to be gathered up, and verifies that the requested items are actually in stock. Next, he or she will assign one or more people to actually go and collect those items from the stock floor. These are usually delivered to a third team of people who check the order for accuracy, then package it and prepare it for shipment.
Most warehouses have their own shipping facilities that work like small post offices, but the only mail being sorted is inventory going in and out. The people who work in these jobs usually spend most of their time inspecting packages, printing packing slips, and sealing boxes. Loading and unloading delivery trucks may also be part of the job.
Databasing and Record Keeping
Keeping careful track of exactly what goes in and out is really critical to most warehouse operations. Things often move very quickly, with orders being received and processed almost constantly. Managers and operators usually need to keep a close eye on what is selling and shipping and what is being delivered in order to make sure that the right sorts of things are being kept in stock. A lot of this comes down to record keeping. Workers must typically document every time they process something, whether for shipping or receiving. Sometimes they also need to note when a certain item has changed location or moved around on the shipping floor so others don’t assume it’s out of stock when they can’t find it.
Many warehouses use computers and electronic databases to make things more efficient, or at least more readily accessible. As such, staff members often need to understand basic spreadsheet applications and digital tools like bar code scanners to keep track of what they do. Some shipping facilities have programs that send alerts when certain items are running low, and some will actually go so far as to automatically place orders for re-stocks when inventory levels dip. Accurate record keeping is really important to avoid unnecessary ordering.
Unloading and receiving goods can generate a lot of waste, particularly where packaging and labeling is concerned. Some employees will necessarily be tasked with cleaning up shipping and receiving floors and organizing trash. Mopping and sanitizing workspace might also come in, particularly if food or other perishable goods are being handled or processed. This job is often rotating so that different people are tasked with it on different days, but larger operations might actually have entire jobs that revolve around cleaning and sanitation.
Required Skills and Education
Most warehouse jobs are considered “entry level,” which means that no particular academic education is usually required. Basic math skills are often useful just in terms of keeping track of shipments and ordering movements, and computer skills are often helpful. Most employers want their workers to have a high school diploma or equivalent, but even this isn’t always essential. The most important job qualifications are usually driven by personality and strength. Staff members need to be able to get along with each other and need to be able to work as a part of a team and take direction from leaders.
Perhaps the most important requirement is strength. Warehouse workers are often called on to move heavy things from one place to another, which requires a certain degree of physical stamina. People are often on their feet for most of the day, even if they aren’t engaging in heavy lifting; even mail teams and packaging specialists spend most of their shift standing. This can be exhausting over time, and workers need to be strong enough to endure the conditions without losing energy.
Common Job Risks
Conditions vary from location to location, but they are typically hot in the summer months and cold in the winter. Some facilities have loading docks that are located outdoors, so people may sometimes have to work in rain or snow. Workers often spend much of their day standing on hard surfaces, and they may need to bend often and lift heavy items above their heads. Over time, these activities can cause physical strain or injury. Operating heavy machinery also carries some risk, and people who run machines have to be very careful to stay clear of moving parts to avoid getting hurt.