Key Considerations for Effective Warehouse Training
Training often takes a back seat to almost all implementation activities, especially when resources are already stretched thin and the project timeline is aggressive. But it can ultimately determine the success or failure of the project.
If you’re implementing a new site, there’s often the added complexity of educating newly hired resources who may lack even basic warehouse experience—to say nothing of their comfort level with using supply chain technology. And if you’re hiring based on a phased implementation approach, resources are typically hired first for inbound (IB) functions, while outbound (OB) resource hiring routinely starts closer to the implementation of outbound operations.
To keep new hires “working” prior to implementation, personnel are often put through the entire training curriculum rather than limited sessions related to their specific functional area(s). Even with well-run training programs, delivering too much information to the workforce in a concentrated period is a risk. They often fall victim to the “deer in the headlights” effect once the go-live rolls around.
Generally, the plan should be to train users as close to go-live as possible so they can develop their “muscle memory” and not forget what they’ve learned in their structured training sessions. If resources (especially new hires) are given so much information they cannot completely understand what they’re being taught, then are they really being set up for success on the floor?
Staff should be trained for a specific functional activity and not for the full spectrum of work that goes on in the warehouse. In other words, all IB users should not be trained in every aspect of receiving and put-away if their primary function will be receiving parcel trailers. It’s more effective to focus training on specific functional activities and allow the associates to become good at that function (or not) and then begin the learning process on additional activities. These additional learning opportunities can come after go-live when operations have achieved stability, and people understand how to do their jobs more effectively.
Warehouse resources often have a “learn by doing” mentality, which creates a challenge to achieve smooth operations quickly after go-live when everything is in full production. The same applies for experienced workers supporting the implementation of a new system or a significant system upgrade. The best method is the use of a permanent mock warehouse with a training environment set up on a separate server. This allows users to walk through any activity at any time without using the production system and potentially affecting live operations. However, this method requires dedicated maintenance. The environment must be well maintained with the latest fixes, patches, and upgrades, and each new process should be added as a workable scenario. Having a mock warehouse is also an excellent tool for individuals or small groups of new hires to test their knowledge at any point after go-live.
Building a temporary mock warehouse is another alternative, again provided it has a training environment separate from the production system. The physical space would be disassembled upon completion of the initial training program, but the training environment can remain available as long as it’s needed for users to walk through exercises in a classroom environment.
In the end, classroom-only training can be effective as long as the content and explanations from the trainer are detailed enough to ensure users truly understand the system and the processes. Providing visual aids for each scenario can contribute to the effectiveness of the training. (e.g., put location barcodes on a wall in the classroom so the user can simulate put-away more accurately with the associated physical movements and handheld equipment). This can also aid users by helping to better understand location naming conventions and how to look for them in the actual warehouse once they are live.
For new-hire education and/or refresher training after implementation, computer based training (CBT) with user engagement can be almost as good as hands-on learning, if the content is clear and well-conceived. For example, if there are animated visual sessions explaining the process, then the user can step through the RF functions to complete the transactions. Shadowing other “expert” users is also an effective way to train people on additional functionality or as an enhancement to their initial training.
Ultimately, the success of any implementation project and the ultimate go-live depends greatly on how comfortable the warehouse personnel are when using it in the actual environment, which is likely to be fast-paced. Today’s supply chain and warehouse management technology is designed to be intuitive, but each member of the warehouse team needs to know that he or she is performing the job properly. Feedback and positive reinforcement are critical to this understanding. Well-executed training can also lead to good staff retention rates, which supports productivity on many levels. Well-trained employees will almost certainly help to keep throughput—and morale—high.