Monday, 9 February 2015

From Muscles to Mental Abilities in the Warehouse

A transition needing purposeful management

Warehousing is an integral part of the logistics chain. Here is a strategic insight into the transition of the warehouse workforce which is needed for optimal integration of the end to end supply chain.

Identifying the gaps
Fifteen years ago the following characteristics were not uncommon in the wanted ads for pickers and packers:
  •       Basic reading/ writing ability
  •       Proven ability to stand for long hours
  •       Physically dexterous to lift and move heavy weights

By contrast, a recent Internet trawl uncovers these for the same job category:
  •        Relevant post matric qualification/ diploma in warehouse management
  •        Ability to do quality inspection
  •        Must be computer literate:
    •        MS Office or equivalent
    •      Warehouse management system
    •      ERP System

This leads one to question whether this “picker and packer” is endangered species?
How do we determine what will be needed in the warehouse of the future?

Structure Determines Skills Needed

These questions will shape our thinking:
  •       To what extent will our future warehouse be automated, both from the perspective of inventory management and that of physical operations? This will determine a certain set of skills required.
  •        How is the inventory management system integrated with that of the total supply chain management system? This will determine a further set of required skills.
  •       What is the estimated workforce and how is it to be structured? This will determine the different levels of skills required.
  •      Bear in mind that what we need to explore the future, not the present, in carrying out this exercise.
  •      Having determined the target market for skills development, we need to find out what they must be able to do:

Future Skills Matrix
At each level in the new warehouse team a blend of technical, leadership and soft skills will be required.

Focusing on technical skills, we need to isolate those specialised areas without which the warehouse is unable to operate. There should be no more than 10 of these, for example:
  •       Equipment operation and maintenance
  •        Goods receiving and dispatch
  •        Inventory location, movement and storage
  •        Operate in conformance with SHEQ requirements
  •        Security
  •        Documentation
  •        Packing, marking and labeling

This grid is however insufficient in itself- many fall into the trap of believing that it is only these technical skills which define a competent person.

We also need a similar matrix to cover the so called soft skills:
  •       Effective communication
  •        Teamwork
  •        Organisation of self and others
  •        Problem solving
  •        Application of technology
  •        Collection, analysis and evaluation of information
  •        Understanding the interdependence of each function to others in the total supply chain

For each of these, each member of the team will need to be able to apply these skills at one of four levels:
  • Awareness
  • Basic
  • Operational
  • Expert

These decisions will enable us to compile a skills matrix for the new warehousing functions:




Equipment operation and maintenance

Goods receiving and dispatch

Inventory location, movement and storage

Operate in conformance with SHEQ requirements



Packing, marking and labeling


Effective communication


Organisation of self and others

Problem solving

Application of technology

Collection, analysis and evaluation of information

Understanding the interdependence of each function to others in the total supply chain

Competency Profiles  
Now we apply the grid in order to develop a competency profile for each function within the new warehouse structure.

This is achieved by answering the question “For this particular function, at which level is each of our defined competencies required?’

Powerful tool
Once we have a competency profile for each function we can measure each of our current workforce against the profile of the function they will be expected to perform. Where additional team members are needed, they will also be measured against the respective competency profile.

By doing this, the resulting individual development plan becomes a powerful tool for growing our warehouse human capital.

To what extent do you see the transition from brawn to brains in your warehousing operations?

Are you able to determine the competency needs for your future warehousing operations? If so, what tools do you use?

Please share your ideas through my blog,