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Warehouse Associate Career Guide

Are you highly organized and detail-oriented? Do you have good written communication skills? Are you looking for a career where you need to be physically fit and constantly on the move? A warehouse associate could be a great choice for your next career move.

Warehouse associates work in warehouse settings where they are responsible for a variety of tasks, including keeping track of incoming and outgoing stock, maintaining inventory, receiving shipments, picking and filling customer orders, and organizing shelves. As a warehouse associate, you will need to be strong, in great physical shape, able to lift heavy boxes, and be on your feet throughout the workday. Exceptional organizational skills are vital as these individuals need to keep accurate records of inventory, maintain stock in its proper locations, label items, and know where inventory items are located. 

As a warehouse associate, you have to keep an eye out for damaged or incomplete shipments and notify the management team in a timely manner. Maintaining a safe environment is always critical for a warehouse associate. These professionals will typically need to be certified to operate forklifts and other warehouse management equipment. Intermediate proficiency using computers and relevant computer software is also a requirement of a warehouse associate.

Sample job description

[Your Company Name] is looking for a key individual who’s a hard worker and quick learner that can join our fast-paced warehouse team. You will have a critical role in moving products through our distribution network to service our customers. Your role is critical in providing our customers with the product they expect at an everyday low price. You can expect the work to be physically demanding with an extremely high focus on your safety and the safety of others. You will be lifting heavy cases in extreme climates.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Receive, store, and track shipments
  • Load and unload merchandise from delivery trucks using appropriate tools
  • Carefully handle fragile merchandise
  • Accurately track and document shipment arrivals and departures
  • Tag and label merchandise
  • Box, wrap, and pack merchandise per standard procedures
  • Fill and check all orders for shipment
  • Document and manage all defective or damaged merchandise
  • Operate appropriate merchandise management tools, such as a forklift or other heavy machinery
  • Maintain inventory logs
  • Scan inventory into systems 
  • Lift up to 75 pounds
  • Properly maintain equipment
  • Maintain a clean warehouse and comply with all safety regulations

Education and experience

  • High school diploma or GED 
  • Most warehouse associate positions train on the job, but some recommend prior experience

Required skills and qualifications

  • Strong organizational skills
  • Detail-oriented  
  • Solid communication skills 
  • Knowledge of inventory organization
  • Physical stamina and dexterity 
  • Ability to work well with a team

Preferred qualifications

  • Prior warehouse and logistics experience
  • Materials handling certifications relevant to the products in stock
  • Experience with warehouse equipment, including forklifts, pallet jacks, and hand trucks
  • Experience using computer-based inventory systems

Typical work environment

Warehouse associates work as part of a team in a busy and noisy environment. They have to be alert at all times as they work around forklifts, heavy machinery, etc. Warehouse associates might have to wear protective clothing depending on the type of warehouse setting they work at. These individuals will work in a wide range of warehouses, including retail, parcel and mail, food, transport, manufacturing, and automotive.

Warehouse associates need physical stamina to keep up with the receiving and shipping of goods and materials throughout the day to maintain targets. These associates may also need to maintain technology such as self-operating cranes and carriers that can move goods fast and efficiently.

Typical hours

Warehouse associates typically work 40-hour weeks, between Monday and Saturday. They might have to work overtime or night shifts.

Available certifications

Most warehouse associates are hired with no experience and are trained on the job. To stand out as a candidate, it can be very useful for these individuals to obtain relevant certifications. Here are a few:

  • OSHA Ten-Hour Certification for General Industry and Health – This certification demonstrates that you possess the essential knowledge and skills necessary to thrive in a warehouse position. The course covers areas such as fall protection, fire prevention and protection, and electrical and machine guarding safety. 
  • OSHA Compliant Forklift Certification – This certification ensures employers that you can safely and successfully operate a forklift. To earn the OSHA Compliant Forklift Certification, candidates must be at least 18 years old, pass an online exam, and confirm that they have gained experience operating and driving a forklift per OSHA guidelines.   
  • Supply Chain Warehousing Certificate – This program was developed by the Association of Supply Chain Management and signifies advanced knowledge in warehousing and distribution. The program focuses on distribution inventory management, product storage, packaging and shipment, and logistics sustainability.

Career path

Typically, you will need a high school diploma or a GED before applying for a warehouse associate position. Some employers may want you to have prior experience working in a warehouse or using inventory software. Obtaining a forklift driving certification might also be a requirement for some roles.

Training for a warehouse associate position generally occurs on the job. Associates can rise to leadership positions by being motivated, reliable, detail-oriented, displaying excellent problem-solving skills, and being good team players. Leadership opportunities for these individuals include becoming a team leader, shift leader, logistics manager, facility supervisor, operations supervisor, and general manager.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 53-7065

2020 Employment6,215,000
Projected Employment in 20226,621,500
Projected 2019-2029 Percentage Shift 7% increase
Projected 2019-2029 Numeric Shift406,500 Increase

Although a fully automated warehouse is still somewhere in the future, it may be closer than you think. In the meantime, more and more warehouse operations are becoming automated. Some examples include automated sorting processes, palette shuttling, and stacker cranes. Automated shuttle systems are allowing warehouses to increase storage density without losses in productivity and are on the way to replacing traditional forklifts. Automated pallet shuttle systems can quickly, accurately, and efficiently store high volumes of varied merchandise and other products.

Utilizing robotics for picking, sorting, and packing continues to reduce shipping errors and requires only a handful of workers to service the machines. As technology advances, the use of robotics will persist.

Warehouse associates will have to shift their focus to keep up with the changes in the way warehouses are run and maintained. Instead of doing all the work themselves, they will need to be trained on how automated machinery in the warehouse works, how it is maintained, and how to repair the machinery.