Warehousing management - the Cinderella of management training

Bobbi Ryan

The pathways to managerial careers in New Zealand are very well defined, via our tertiary institutions and other post-graduate training providers.

But there’s one area of business - quite a vital area - where the creation of a manager, and particularly an effective one, appears to be largely accidental - warehouse management. Almost no one goes to University thinking “I’m going to be a Warehouse Manager”. But there are great careers to be had in that space.

There are some exceptional Warehouse Managers out there, but try recruiting for one, as we do, and the talent pool is very shallow. The top-class warehouse managers we see have often landed in the role by accident from another function, thrown there to fill a gap for what was expected to be a short time - and they’ve thrived. Three such managers I worked with came from food science and planning roles - and have since risen high in the warehousing world. And they love it.

Warehouse management is rewarding in many ways. Remuneration packages for large-scale warehouses or multi-site roles can come with a significant six-figure salary package. But it’s also an area with excellent opportunities for individuals to develop their leadership skills: warehousing teams range from 2-3 person units to those in the hundreds. Warehousing has a direct impact on customer satisfaction, making it far more than a box-moving exercise, and it’s a function that has black-and-white measurements with a real opportunity to initiate improvements and deliver measureable results. It’s also an area where there are significant, exciting technical developments taking place with robotics and software advances. Warehouse management offers great personal growth and the chance to really shine.

But most young people thinking about their future career hear next to nothing about warehousing. There is a strong sense that it’s an occupation you go into if you’re not well-educated. Companies don’t foster their talented young people into these roles and there’s not a lot of specialised, formal training in the job - internally or externally - happening, so the calibre of those in the roles is understandably low. Employers wouldn’t throw anyone into accounting roles who didn’t have the necessary training - but generally do for warehouse management roles.

Raising the profile of warehousing as a legitimate career option won’t be easy. Employers have to start thinking differently about the function, and graduates need to see that it can be an attractive option. Businesses need to direct some of their “bright young things” into warehousing both as a career end in itself or a step to other supply chain roles and upper management positions - “seeding” the function with future leaders. It’s a very sensible entry point for juniors aspiring to supply chain roles; talented people will stand out easily and quickly get leadership experience much earlier than in other supply chain functions such as planning - which seems to be the preferred starting point for a supply chain career.

A graduate or school leaver looking at warehousing as a career should check out the NZ Association for Operations and Supply Chain Professionals (NZPICS) whose courses and qualifications cover supply chain certification including warehousing modules. The two programmes that are suitable are the Principles of Operations Management and a new course - APICS Certificate in Logistics, Transport and Distribution (CLTD). Employers are increasingly seeking these credentials for supply chain roles.

The other dynamic at play in the warehousing scene in New Zealand (as overseas) is the shift to Third Party Logistics (3PL) - outsourcing a function like warehousing to an external provider, or even 4PL, where the provider takes over a great deal more than just simple line functions. 3PL and 4PL organisations are more switched-on around the training they provide their warehouse managers; where it’s missing is in organisations that do their own warehousing.

And as manufacturing increasingly moves offshore, with a subsequent rise in online activity and greater importing in NZ, warehousing will grow in commercial importance. Warehousing and distribution will increasingly be core competencies, provide opportunities for greater efficiencies (and cost savings) and thus enhanced competitive advantage. All the more reason to plan and train for the highest level of expertise in the roles you can achieve.


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