Career Spotlight: Warehouse Order Selector

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Have you got hustle? In this career, you’ll need it!

Warehouse Order Selectors, also called “Order Pickers”, help ensure the billions of goods sold every year in the US get from warehouses to retailers and/or directly into the hands of consumers.


The Basics

Pickers are responsible for filling orders by moving specific products from warehouse storage onto a pallet or crate so it can be packed and loaded onto a truck. It’s fast-paced and physically demanding. In a single hour, an Order Selector may lift over 80 boxes each weighing more than 50 lbs. In the Portland metro-area, entry-level roles start around $15/hr and with 5 years of experience Order Selectors can earn up to $29/hr.

Many of the roles are truly “entry-level” where no experience is required, so long as you can fulfill the day-to-day duties of the role and pass the pre-employment screening. 

The 5 traits all Employers are looking for:

  • Reliability:  Employers need to feel confident that you’ll consistently show up for your shift, ready to work, with the appropriate gear. If you miss your shift, shipments get delayed or trucks go out half-full and it costs thousands of dollars in lost sales.
  • Speed: You’ve got to be able to walk fast, lift fast, work fast and never slow down. Within a month of starting, you’ll be expected to reach pick-rate targets (e.g. 80 boxes per hour).
  • Accuracy: All orders that you pick will be audited and your error rate will be compared to the rest of the team. We’re all human, so errors happen, but they’re costly. You’ll need to invest time to learn best practices to minimize your error-rate.
  • Safety-focused: There is a right way to pick up a box, position a lift truck and stack a pallet. Each employer has their own safety guidelines for what employees wear and how they work. Pay attention!! These are to prevent accidents and injuries.
  • Flexibility: Sometimes warehouses are short-staffed or in peak season and they need their Employees to pick-up extra hours or change shifts. Most employers prefer to hire those who are flexible and can work weekends or support during crunch times. 

Some employers don’t offer entry-level warehouse roles and only want individuals with at least some experience in a warehouse /distribution center or with a pallet-jack/ forklift. These employers typically pay more to start. 

The work environment varies widely between warehouses due to the range of systems, level of automation, types of tools, warehouse layout, picking strategy, safety rules, and the types of products stored (refrigerated, heavy/ bulk stock, etc).

So, don’t assume if you’ve got previous warehouse experience that you know what to expect. Make sure you ask lots of questions during your interview to make sure the environment is a fit for you.

Core Knowledge & Skills

Here are some of the important concepts and definitions:

Order Picker Performance Metrics

This is likely how your performance will be measured, in addition to if you reliably showing up to work.

  • Efficiency: Pick Rate (items picked / hours of work)
  • Quality: Order Accuracy % (error-free orders / total orders)
  • Reportable Safety Incidents: Number of incidents that were either actual incidents or near misses in a given time period.


Picking Systems

The picking system is the technology the warehouse uses to help Order Selectors know what to products to pick for a given order. It’s not uncommon for one warehouse to utilize multiple picking systems. For example, they may use a Voice System in 4 areas of the Warehouse and a Pick-to-Light system in another.

  1. Paper-based: Typically used by smaller operations, paper-based order picking is the most simple of the order systems. Orders are printed on paper as they come in, then handed to the Order Selectors to fulfill and manually check-off. Typically these papers are then entered manually into a computer by admin staff.

    Order Selector verifying his pick using a paper-based system
  2. RF scanning: Radio Frequency scanners may be hand-held scanning guns or worn on an Order Selectors arm or wrist. It directs workers to the area of the warehouse (using the most efficient route), then verifies that the picker selected the correct product for the given order.

    Picker confirming the item he is selecting via a Radio Frequency (RF) Scanner
  3. Pick-to-light: This technique is used most commonly for small batch items. Order Selectors scan a barcode on the shipping carton, then a display lights up next to each item that needs to be picked for that order, indicating the quantity.

    Pick to Light.jpg
    Picker confirming the item she is selecting with a pick-to-light system
  4. Voice-directed: This system is completely hands-free. Instructions are given through the headset, then the picker speaks back through the microphone to confirm of information such as location, product, and quantity, which is then passed back as data to the warehouse systems.

    Order picker receiving instructions from his voice system


Picking Strategies/ Methods

These are typically defined by leadership and one warehouse may use multiple pick strategies for different areas of the warehouse (e.g. Batch for small items and Wave for large items):

  1. Piece or Parts Picking: This is a simple method, where an Order Selector picks items for a single order. Pickers select each item according to their pick list and place it in a container for shipping to the customer. This method is appropriate for odd-sized or oversized products; even items that may require special handling. Pickers walk many steps a day to pick this type of orders. Picking rates depend on the size of the orders and the amount of travel time.
  2. Wave Picking: Similar to Piece or Parts Picking, an Order Selector picks one order, one SKU at a time, but orders are scheduled to be picked at certain times of the day, in a specific wave to maximize the picking and packing operations.
  3. Batch Picking: This method involves picking multiple orders at the same time, to maximize efficiency. After order picking, goods are sorted/consolidated by order or shipping destination. Batch picking is useful for small items and only a few SKUs per order (e.g. not when building pallets).
  4. Zone Picking: Order pickers are assigned to one specific zone to pick within, filling orders with the SKUs located in that area. The advantage of this method of picking is that workers are very familiar with items in their zones, which are of a limited size, allowing them to pick faster.If the order requires SKUs from another zone, the two methods used are either: Pick-and-Pass (where it moves from one zone to another once completed) or Consolidation (where each zone picks their items for the same order at the same time and they are later merged into one order).

Skill development

Most often, working as a Warehouse Order Selector is an opportunity to move up the ranks within a Warehouse to higher pay bands or potentially even management. However, some smaller warehouse operations also provide cross-training and Forklift certification programs which also allow you to shift from Order Picking teams to Distribution teams.

In Summary

A career as an Order Selector may be the perfect choice if you love a fast-paced, physically demanding environment with a lot of structure.

If you haven’t fully embraced technology or prefer something a bit slower paced, you may want to look for smaller operations that are more likely to be paper-based and require you to cross-train and perform packing or distribution functions as well.

Make sure during your interview you ask questions about safety, their picking system/technology and also what method you’ll be using and you’ll certainly earn brownie points.  Even better, watch a few videos on Warehouse Operations, driving a forklift or using RF scanners and you’ll set yourself up on a fast-track to be hired.

Happy hunting…  Apply to be an Order Selector

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