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Hiring and Developing Outstanding Order Pickers

The ideal order picker shares similar characteristics - how can you develop them?

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order picker working on flow rack system

Order fulfillment operations come in all sizes, shapes and types, including a basket of challenges that diversity creates. One of the most difficult challenges in this industry is developing order picking talent. It’s competitive these days, as you know, for distribution facilities and e-commerce fulfillment centers. One of the best ways to enhance those operations is to develop your labor force more fully. What can you do?

What does a good order picker look like?

Order pickers should be team players. The best are detail-oriented, trustworthy and accurate. They have agile hands, the ability to work fast for extended periods, and good focus. They’re customer-focused, even if that customer is an internal one down the line. They have the emotional intelligence to work alongside others in a fast paced environment. They should be able to handle pressure and meet deadlines. They understand processes, picking systems, equipment and how they fit into those things. They must be able to physically handle the work.

How can you hire and develop this variety of skills and traits?

The checklist

  1. Interview, qualify and measure – up front: If you think you have might have difficulty identifying the above traits in a 20-minute interview, you’re right. It takes longer and that means you’ll spend more time on the front end of the process to improve long term results. There are many capacity and functional tests, but training and trial periods will help you understand who has these qualities and who doesn’t. Simple matching and detail games are broadly available, and may indicate whether someone can choose between items quickly and accurately.
  2. Train to win: Well-run operations try to hire people with experience in distribution and warehousing, but those people aren’t always available. That background doesn’t always equal success. No matter who you hire, a training program that helps them work better is critical. Anyone with the desire and personal ability should be able to thrive in the right situation, and become successful order pickers. Train them on your expectations, and the equipment they will be using.
  3. Get the technology right: Using technologies such as pick to light, voice picking, various WMS and WCS systems, carousels, flow storage and other methods will help make people faster and more accurate. In a large operation with many picks, deploying this technology is critical for success. It also helps you develop workers by reducing headcount, meaning you can focus more time and resources on fewer individuals.
  4. Measure the right things: Order pickers should always be accountable for two key areas: performance and quality. Are they able to keep the pace up? Does the work result in errors, returns, or revisions? Set goals, and follow up systematically. People appreciate it when they are given feedback and appreciation for a job well done. If they’re lacking, you’ll know it faster and be able to either retrain or part ways quicker.
  5. Manage for the long term: Finding ways to retain your best talent is critical. It’s not just about money, although money always matters. Experienced warehouse workers, who appreciate the company and like the environment will perform better.
  6. Versatility is key: Most people like learning things, so cross training is often a way to help people improve and increase their effectiveness. Train the picking employees to work in putaway. Replenishment workers should spend time doing packing and shipping. Train them on forklift operations and safety. This not only develops move versatility in your operation, it may help you cope with unanticipated issues, and find people who are better suited for other jobs where they can be more effective. These employees may also appreciate the challenges other departments in the company face as they learn more about the overall operation.
  7. Focus on ergonomics: We’ve seen several operations that have designed entire processes around ergonomics. Partially that’s due to reducing injury rates and worker compensation, but it can also serve to create a more diverse work force, where the ability to, say, lift 50 pounds isn’t a factor in filling a particular job.

Final thoughts

In this era of tight labor markets and increased demand, it’s important to hire, train, develop and retain good workers. While this is a brief checklist, it’s a good starting point. How are you developing workers? Feel free to comment below.
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Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.

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