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About the Author

Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Material Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.

Logistics News

By Cliff Holste

December 17, 2014

Logistics News: What Does A Distribution Center Operation Have In Common With A Major League Sports Team?

Training and Execution are Keys to having a Winning Season!

Holste Says:

A properly executed training program will focus on training the trainers.
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Previous Columns by Cliff Holste

Sorting It Out: Ten Factors Driving Small Parcel Shipping Volume

Sorting It Out: Blending Automated & Manual Operations for Maximum Benefit

Sorting It Out: Managing Today's DC Requires Comprehensive Problem Solving Skills

Sorting It Out: Protecting the Supply Chain Against 4 Common Security Threats in Distribution

Sorting It Out: Customized Order Fulfillment Requirements Drives Adoption of Automation Technology


For many shippers the last 100 days of the year is a dash to the finish-line. It’s when they either win or lose relative to their P&L statement. It’s during peak shipping season when the pressure is on to perform at the highest level of efficiency and professionalism. And, the time when training really pays off.

To further complicate matters, during the peak volume season many shippers require a large pool of temporary labor to supplement and work alongside the regular team. The temps need to be quickly trained in the basic receiving, picking, and shipping operations in order to accommodate this surge in volume without having a surge in errors.


What Level of Training Should Be Provided?

A properly executed training program will focus on training the trainers. This is necessary because new hires will have to be trained by experienced DC personnel.

The training program should be tailored to your specific needs and customized to the exact equipment, controls, and software systems, and at a minimum include the following (3) stages:

First Stage – Maintenance Hands-On Training:

In order to become familiar with the equipment and system components, as well as their function and location within the system, your maintenance staff needs firsthand knowledge of how the equipment goes together and what adjustments are required for proper operation. Your System Provider needs to make sure that maintenance personnel understand the equipment manuals, troubleshooting guidelines, service schedule, and spare parts inventory.

Second Stage – Formalized Training:

The purpose here is to ensure that your operation staffers are acquainted with the critical functions and operations of the system. This training should familiarize them with all required operating and safety procedures as well as how to correct and recover from various fault conditions. It should include an overview of system operation, component identification, control functionality, as well as concentration on system diagnostics and managerial statistics and how to interpret them.

Third Stage – System Audit and Refresher:

Once a year, about three months ahead of the peak season, the System Provider should perform a mechanical and controls audit to determine actual system performance criteria and to perform any required follow-up training and/or re-training.

Most System Providers offer a library of videos (via the Internet) that provide step-by-step troubleshooting and routine maintenance instructions. Maintenance personal, equipped with laptops, can access the videos while onsite at the location of the trouble. Also, inquire about live video conferences which can be a valuable timesaver in solving system issues during the peak season.


Final Thoughts


Unfortunately, most shippers invest very little time and effort in formal operator training. It’s a kind of learn-as-you-go method. The problem is that without proper and continuous training, bad habits develop that can rob a system of its full potential. Once incorrect methods are adopted, they become SOP and very hard to correct. That’s why professional sports teams begin each new season teaching the fundamentals. This lesson can be applied to the operation of a material handling system in the distribution center. It’s about the organization and implementation of the complex factors affecting the realization of productivity, efficiency, order accuracy, throughput goals, and workplace safety. To produce a consistent winner - proper operator training needs to be taken seriously and on a regular schedule.


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