Warehouse assistants control the flow of stock through a warehouse, monitoring goods in and out, safely and efficiently moving and handling items and keeping stock records.
The UK is home to thousands of warehouses operated by everyone from multinationals to one-man businesses. These facilities range from state-of-the-art chilled storage units to draughty barns. Millions of square feet are given over to the storage and warehouses are as varied as they are ubiquitous! With consumers demanding an ever-increasing range of goods on supermarket shelves and with a boom in internet shopping, warehouses are an essential part of UK infrastructure. Getting the goods from the manufacturer to the distributor to the customer is the job of the logistics industry, and warehouses are a key element in this chain, ensuring the timely and accurate supply of goods to customers and retail outlets. Warehouse assistants are employed to make sure the process runs smoothly.
Warehouse assistants are employed in many different industries and the particular role of a warehouse assistant will vary according to the sector and the type of facility in which they work – distribution centre, manufacturing plant etc. The larger the operation, the more specific the role is likely to be, with specialist pickers, packers, stock controllers. Smaller businesses are more likely to require a warehouse assistant to be an all rounder, pitching in with all aspects of goods control and distribution.
This is a male-dominated industry, but gender should not be a barrier to applicants. Warehouse staff usually work as part of a team, headed up by a team leader or supervisor. Again, the size and number of teams will be dependent on the particular business and the industry.
Warehouse assistants do not tend to be highly paid, given the relative lack of qualifications required. Most entry-level warehouse positions receive around the minimum wage, while those with a couple of years’ experience or a more specialised role can expect to earn £14,000 to £18,000 per year. More senior positions in this sector command higher salaries. A warehouse manager, for example, could expect to earn £25,000 – £30,000 a year. Salaries are also highly dependent on the industry itself, and there are the usual geographical variations in salaries which apply to most industries.
Generally speaking, warehouse assistants will be responsible for some or all of the following:
- loading and unloading goods from delivery vans or lorries
- checking that the correct quantity and type of goods have been received
- recording any damaged, missing or faulty goods
- signing the delivery form, once satisfied that the goods are complete
- moving the goods to the correct area in the warehouse, either manually or using mechanical handling equipment
- labelling goods
Storage & Stock Control
- allocating storage space to goods
- relocating and re-stacking goods to make space for a new delivery
- keeping records (often computerised) of goods, their location and quantity
- re-ordering if stock levels fall too low
- picking goods that have been ordered
- keeping records of goods which have been picked
- preparing despatch notes and labels
- moving and stacking goods ready for delivery, either by hand or using machinery
- compliance with security procedures and health & safety
- maintaining the warehouse in a tidy state and clearing away packing material and debris
- using computerised systems, barcode scanners and other technology to record goods movement
In addition to these duties, some warehouse assistants may have additional responsibility for:
- liaising with manufacturers, distributors and customers
- arranging carriage or actually delivering goods to the customer or outlet
- quality control of goods in and/or goods out
- maintenance of stable conditions or temperatures (e.g. for perishable food items, chemicals or drugs)
Qualifications are not usually required for the position of warehouse assistant. However, the following qualifications, while not essential, are helpful and may improve a candidate’s chances of employment in this industry:
- NVQ in Warehousing and Storage
- Full, clean driving licence
- Fork lift driving licence
It’s worth noting that you can obtain a fork lift truck licence from the age of 16 – a year sooner than a regular driving licence. This makes the role of warehouse operative accessible and attractive to school leavers, especially those leaving education with few qualifications.
A warehouse assistant must keep track of goods in and out, storing them in the most efficient and appropriate way, so good mental arithmetic, spatial awareness and judgement are essential.
Attention to detail is important when checking for faulty or damaged goods, as is the ability to keep accurate and up-to-date records, for example to ensure stock levels do not fall too low. Admin and paperwork are an integral part of the job, so an organised and conscientious approach is needed.
Warehouse staff will usually work as part of a team, so a successful warehouse assistant needs to be a good team player. For warehouse staff whose role involves contact with suppliers and customers, excellent people skills and verbal communication skills – as well as patience – will be needed.
Finally, warehouse assistants work in a potentially hazardous environment so must be responsible and reliable, with a commitment to safe working especially with regard to the correct operation of mechanical handling equipment.
There is a significant manual element to the job, so a degree of fitness, stamina and, to a lesser extent, physical strength is required. While most warehouse jobs are based indoors, some working time may be spent outdoors, for example when taking deliveries or transferring stock between depots. Warehouse assistants should therefore be prepared for this outdoor environment, which may involve cold, wet working conditions.
Warehouse assistants are almost certain to carry out manual handling, which is responsible for around 30% of accidents reported to the Health & Safety Executive. Back injury is the most likely type of injury to be sustained in this line of work.
In a modern warehouse movement of goods is often automated or carried out using machinery or equipment, such as a forklift. Adherence to safety procedures and proper use of personal protective equipment will help prevent injury, but workplace traffic accidents are not uncommon in a warehouse environment.
Warehouse staff tend to be male, though the number of women in the industry is steadily increasing, thanks in part to initiatives like Women and Work, organised by the Skills for Logistics organisation (see below).
Shift work is common in the logistics industry, and many warehouses operate 24 hours a day, requiring continuous staffing. It is common for shifts to be on rotation, with employees working the early shift for a week, followed by a late (night) shift. Exact working hours and shift patterns vary widely depending on the employer.
Most employers require no previous experience when recruiting a warehouse assistant, as full training is usually provided on the job. However, some knowledge of a warehouse environment, experience of manual handling or a background in logistics is likely to be advantageous.
There are opportunities for warehouse assistants in almost every sector, and there is therefore a huge number of potential employers. Some employers will be logistics or distribution specialists, such as Bibby Distribution, operating warehouses on behalf of companies who have outsourced this element of their business. Others will be retail or manufacturing businesses which employ warehouse staff in their own facilities rather than outsourcing. An example would be Tesco, which operates 24 UK distribution centres.
No previous experience is required to become a warehouse assistant, but prospects for progression are good, particularly within larger companies. Jobs which would be open to a warehouse assistant might include Warehouse Supervisor, Warehouse Team Leader, Warehouse Manager.
Also known as…
- Warehouse Operative (or Operator)
- Warehouse Person
- Warehouse Storeperson
- Goods Coordinator
- Forklift Truck Driver
- Stock Controller
What’s it really like?
22 year old Bethan has been working in warehousing for 4 years – a complete change from her previous role as a waitress in a pub! Her employer, Brecon Pharmaceuticals, is a leading service provider in the global pharmaceutical industry, providing commercial packaging and clinical trials services.
My working day starts at 8.00am and I begin by reviewing any documentation relating to deliveries received the previous evening. I have to review upcoming deliveries for the day ahead and post this on the “goods due in” notice board so all members of the team know what we’re expecting. Then I book in the materials we have received, working in conjunction with the QA department.
The best aspect of my job is the variety. I face new challenges each day; working for a company that prides itself on reliability and flexibility means the customer always comes first, so we have to be able to adapt and react quickly. We package different things every day which makes the job interesting but being contract packers can also be frustrating – chasing things up and tracking down documentation when we are working to a tight deadline can make things pressured. It can get chaotic so being able to keep a cool head is a useful skill!
The manual side of the job is important – you’ve got to be hands on. The role involves loading and unloading lorries, moving and locating stock. I’ve completed Bendi Forklift driving and harness training courses as well as fire awareness and fire extinguisher training. I’m proof that a warehouse environment being thought of as a male only area really is a thing of the past. As my colleague Peris Hughes says, it’s all about working together as a team that’s important. It’s not all manual work either – there’s also a lot of office-based tasks, which is where computer literacy, good organisation and the ability to work on your own are useful. Ideally, any person considering a similar role should be able to adapt to the two very different environments.
Accuracy and attention to detail are really important. Here at Brecon, for example, we have drugs stored in several different locations – some of them are controlled substances and there are numerous categories of refrigeration. It’s vital that we know what is where and keep accurate records.
In the future, I’d like to move into a supervisory role or QA document control. Prospects for progression are good and this role has opened up opportunities for me.
A warehouse assistant at this employer earns a salary in the range of £14,000-18,000 a year.