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What does a warehouse operative do?
Warehouse operatives are sometimes also known as warehouse workers. They are responsible for receiving delivered goods and handling and storing them correctly. They may also pick and package ordered items ready for dispatch and carry out stock and quality control checks.
Warehouse operatives can work in various types of warehouses of different sizes, e.g. storage, distribution, fulfilment centres, cold storage, etc. They can also handle a variety of goods and specialise in operating equipment, such as forklift trucks and powered pallet trucks. Therefore, what warehouse operatives do will depend on where they work and their specialisms.
A warehouse operative’s main aim is to handle and store goods correctly to prevent damage and financial losses. They also have an essential role in helping their businesses to achieve delivery targets so that customers are satisfied and continue to use their services. They are a crucial cog in the supply chain wheel, and problems would surely arise if their role didn’t exist.
Warehouse operatives will carry out many tasks, including adhering to health and safety procedures, receiving/offloading/checking deliveries, moving goods safely, storing goods correctly, picking/packing/wrapping/labelling/loading orders, manually handling goods, conducting stock checks, cleaning and tidying, moving stock by hand or equipment, conducting safety checks, reporting any issues, etc. The role also requires warehouse operatives to complete paperwork and keep records.
Warehouse operatives can work with many colleagues, including warehouse managers/supervisors, team leaders, other warehouse operatives, forklift drivers, warehouse administrators, quality controllers, maintenance workers, production workers and other support staff. They can also deal with various external stakeholders, such as delivery drivers, suppliers, contractors, customers, auditors, local authorities, etc.
Warehouse operatives can work for different-sized organisations, from large distribution and logistics companies to smaller retailers and private businesses. They can also work for manufacturers, packers or retailers with small warehouse facilities on-site.
A warehouse operative’s responsibilities will depend on where they work, their role and their specialisms.
Some examples of their day-to-day duties can include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Adhering to health and safety procedures.
- Receiving deliveries, including returns, and signing delivery receipts.
- Offloading deliveries from various vehicles.
- Checking deliveries for damaged or missing items.
- Moving goods around the premises safely to the required locations.
- Ensuring goods are stored correctly in the appropriate areas.
- Picking, packing, wrapping, labelling and loading orders ready for dispatch.
- Safely stacking goods onto pallets and ensuring they are secure.
- Manually handling goods where required.
- Conducting quality checks on goods.
- Keeping track of stock and inventory.
- Keeping the warehouse clean and tidy.
- Moving stock around the warehouse by hand or by using lifting equipment, e.g. non-powered and powered pallet trucks and forklift trucks (if trained).
- Carrying out daily safety checks on equipment and accessories.
- Reporting any issues to warehouse management or supervision.
- Completing paperwork and keeping records, e.g. stock control and delivery notes.
A warehouse operative can expect to work 35-40 hours a week. However, they can do more or fewer hours depending on their role.
There are permanent and full-time roles, but there may be opportunities to work flexible hours, such as part-time or job share. There are also many temporary and fixed-term contract jobs (depending on where an individual is based).
Being a warehouse operative is not usually a 9-5 job, as many roles are shift based. Therefore, those looking at entering this profession must be committed to working unsociable hours, e.g. early mornings, evenings, nights, weekends and bank holidays. However, some employers may offer Monday-Friday daytime shifts.
Warehouse operatives tend to work in a single workplace. However, there may be roles where they may need to travel to work at different warehouses with larger employers, which can lengthen the working day. Overseas opportunities are rare.
What to expect
There are many positives to being a warehouse operative, especially if individuals are practical and enjoy a busy and varied job. The role would suit less academic individuals, as it does not require formal qualifications. However, they may need to pass training and tests to operate powered lifting equipment, such as pallet trucks and forklifts.
It can be a good option for individuals who have had a career break, as they can sometimes become warehouse operatives with little experience, as employers provide full training. Some companies may require specific skills and attributes.
The job can be rewarding, as warehouse operatives have an essential role in ensuring various goods are undamaged and that customers and clients receive their goods intact and are satisfied. They can go home at the end of the working day knowing their job makes a positive difference, as they prevent delays in the supply chain.
There is no shortage of warehouse operative roles and many jobs across the UK. In fact, warehouse operatives are in demand as online shopping continues to increase. They can also do shift work, which can help those with families and other commitments. Some shifts can allow for a decent work-life balance.
The salary can also be competitive, especially with more experience and if working unsociable hours, and overtime is possible. Most warehouse operatives receive weekly pay, which can be great for those who don’t want to wait a month to get their pay cheque.
The role is a good option for those who don’t want to sit at a desk. Warehouse operatives will be on their feet for most of their day and will lift and move goods. It certainly keeps individuals fit, and there is no doubt they will get their steps in!
Boredom will never be a problem for warehouse operatives, as the role is fast-paced, and they must meet targets, which keeps them busy. There are various types of warehouses to work in, and individuals can specialise in forklift driving or handling specific goods. They will also work with people from all different backgrounds during their working day, which is a fantastic option for more social people.
Even though there are positives to being a warehouse operative, there are challenges and cons, e.g. (this list is not exhaustive):
- Physical demands – being a warehouse operative can be physically demanding, and it is a fast-paced, busy role, and there may be a requirement to work different shifts. They may be involved with manual handling, e.g. stacking pallets and loading/unloading goods. They will also walk around large warehouses, which can be tiring, as they will be on their feet for most of the day. However, this can be good for physical fitness, as mentioned.
- Mental demands – warehouse operatives can get extremely busy during their working day. They will have to meet targets and deadlines and can hold up deliveries, production and other activities if they miss them, which can be stressful.
- It’s hazardous – working in a warehouse can expose individuals to various health and safety hazards, such as heavy machinery, robots, moving vehicles, mechanical hazards (conveyor systems), work at height, falling loads, manual handling, dangerous goods, temperature extremes (working in cold storage), hazardous substances, fire, slips, trips and falls, etc. It is not a job for those who lack safety consciousness. The HSE has further information on health and safety in warehousing, which would be helpful for those considering it as a career.
- A lack of job security – many individuals choose to do temporary or contract warehouse work, which doesn’t always have the best job security, and there are no guarantees of getting a permanent role. Individuals must work hard to increase their chances of being taken on. However, there are always other temporary warehouse jobs for those with experience.
- Male-dominated role – the number of women working in warehousing is relatively low. However, it should not put off women who want to enter the profession, as the numbers are increasing.
- Protective clothing – some warehouse operatives wear personal protective equipment (PPE) during their working day, which can get hot and uncomfortable.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and individuals must know what to expect before deciding whether it is suitable. Warehouse work is hazardous, physically and mentally demanding, and there is a lack of job security with temporary roles. The role is also male-dominated, and individuals usually have to wear PPE. However, there are many positives too, and individuals who become warehouse operatives enjoy being practical and having a fast-paced, varied role.
Individuals should consider the pros and cons when deciding whether to be a warehouse operative. They should also ensure they have the right personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a warehouse operative
Some of the personal qualities a warehouse operative requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Safety conscious.
- Responsible, reliable, dependable, honest, self-motivated and hardworking.
- Confident, assertive, efficient, accurate and determined.
- Literacy and numeracy.
- A good level of physical fitness and strength.
- Knowledge of health and safety.
- Knowledge of warehouse operations and procedures.
- Practical skills.
- Communication skills, both written and verbal.
- Organisational and time management skills.
- Technical skills.
- Thinking and reasoning skills.
- Good movement and dexterity.
- Being thorough, accurate and having excellent attention to detail.
- The ability to manually handle heavy loads.
- The ability to operate lifting equipment.
- The ability to work well with their hands.
- The ability to listen and follow instructions.
- The ability to spot hazards and avoid dangerous situations.
- The ability to carry out simple repairs and maintenance.
- The ability to work well with others in a team and alone using their own initiative.
- The ability to work in a fast-paced environment and meet targets and tight deadlines.
- The ability to accept criticism.
- The ability to work well under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to be flexible and open to change.
- The ability to use IT and software packages for basic tasks, e.g. handheld scanners and computers.
Some roles may ask individuals to have experience using specific technologies, e.g. handheld scanners for picking.
Qualifications and training
Individuals can become warehouse operatives by undertaking a course such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Level 1 or 2 Certificate in Warehousing and Storage.
- Level 3 Diploma in Warehousing and Storage (good for team leaders).
The entry requirements and costs will depend on the course provider. Individuals should check before applying.
It may also be worth doing low-cost online courses to gain theoretical knowledge of warehousing to see if it would be a suitable career choice. That way, if not, it will save an individual a lot of time and trouble.
Courses and qualifications do not guarantee a role as warehouse operatives but will help individuals stand out.
There is an apprenticeship route to help individuals become warehouse operatives, e.g. supply chain warehouse operative intermediate apprenticeship or express delivery sortation hub operative intermediate apprenticeship. Individuals usually need some GCSEs, including English and maths, or equivalent.
Opportunities are on Government’s Apprenticeships, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Indeed. Employers may also advertise apprenticeships on most job websites.
Individuals can also apply directly to companies for jobs which they usually advertise on their websites or job sites. The skills and experience required will depend on each employer, but most require some GCSEs (including English and maths) and basic IT skills.
Some employers will prioritise individuals with a valid forklift truck certificate. Therefore, individuals may want to consider undertaking the training to increase their chances of getting a job. Please see our article on becoming a forklift driver for further information.
Relevant paid or voluntary work experience can help individuals become warehouse operatives and gain the necessary skills.
They could (this list is not exhaustive):
- Get plenty of practical experience driving (if wanting to do forklift training as part of the role).
- Apply for temporary warehousing roles, even in admin or support.
- Apply for a job as a labourer or worker on construction or building sites to gain experience in manual handling and equipment use.
- Apply for roles with large retailers that have storage facilities.
- Apply for a warehouse assistant job and shadow experienced operatives.
- Work or volunteer with charities, not-for-profit organisations, community schemes and others to develop communication, practical, organisational and technical skills.
- Do their own research to understand warehousing and what it entails.
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training companies can provide relevant training courses.
We have an approved warehouse safety course that may be useful for warehouse operatives. We also have other relevant topics such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Health and safety for employees.
- COSHH awareness.
- Fire safety awareness.
- Assessing risk.
- Manual handling.
- Workplace stress.
- Work at height.
- PUWER awareness.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Spill management.
- Workplace first aid.
- COVID-19 awareness.
- Time management.
- Customer service skills.
- Resilience training.
Professional bodies, schemes, unions and associations, such as the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT), Generation Logistics, UKWA, USDAW, and others, can also advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide events and support to help individuals become warehouse operatives and give those already in the profession the means to continue their professional development.
The training required will depend on what employers are looking for and the type of role an individual wants. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training needed for specific roles and specialisms. Jobs are on websites such as GOV.UK Find a Job Service, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, other sites, and company careers websites. Also, look at recruitment agencies for warehouse operative roles.
More relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge) will open up more opportunities. Refresher training is also advisable as it keeps individuals’ knowledge and skills updated.
Some warehouse operatives may need to drive for some roles, e.g. if they also deliver goods to customers. Therefore, they may need a full driving licence with a minimum number of points.
Where do warehouse operatives work?
Warehouse operatives can work in various industries and workplace types. Some examples include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Private warehouses.
- Public warehouses.
- Climate-controlled warehouses.
- Bonded warehouses.
- Automated warehouses.
- Storage facilities and units.
- Distribution centres.
- Fulfilment centres.
- Sorting offices and parcel hubs.
- Operational hubs, e.g. military equipment.
- Builders and timber yards and merchants.
- Large retail stores, e.g. supermarkets and DIY.
Warehouse operatives mainly work indoors, but some may need to work outside. They can work in various locations within a warehouse, such as offices, between racking, and around loading bays/docks, packing areas, production areas, etc. In more modern premises, individuals may work in and around robotic systems.
They can work for different employers or recruitment agencies.
How much do warehouse operatives earn?
What a warehouse operative earns will depend on the following:
- Their exact role.
- Their qualifications, training and experience.
- Their industry.
- Whether they are employed or work with an agency temporarily.
- The goods they handle.
- The hours they work and types of shifts, e.g. nights.
- Their geographical location.
Some examples of average salaries for warehouse operatives are as follows:
- £17,688.92 a year or £8.50 per hour (Check-a-Salary).
- £9.38 per hour (Payscale).
- £18,579 (Totaljobs).
- £11.33 per hour or £22,118 a year (Indeed UK).
- £11.50 per hour or £22,425 a year (Talent.com).
- £16,000 starter to £24,000 experienced a year (National Careers Service).
As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.
Types of warehouse operative roles to specialise in
As mentioned, warehouse operatives can work in various industries and specific warehouse settings.
They can work as general warehouse operatives or specialise in roles such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Cold store warehouse operatives – work in environments where goods must be stored chilled or frozen. Individuals can work in extremes of -20°C, but employers should provide the correct PPE.
- Dangerous goods warehouse operatives – some goods are classed as dangerous, e.g. flammable, explosive, corrosive and toxic. There are stringent laws and rules regarding their movement, storage and transportation. Warehouse operatives in these environments require specific training and relevant work experience.
- Goods-in warehouse operatives – individuals can choose to work specifically in goods inwards within a warehouse where they will take in all deliveries.
- LLOP picking warehouse operatives – this role requires individuals to operate Low-Level Order Pickers (LLOPs), which are powered pallet trucks. Individuals will need to undertake training and have a certificate.
- Noon/afternoon/evening (PM) warehouse operatives – some jobs allow individuals to work afternoons, typically 2 pm – 10 pm.
- Night warehouse operatives – individuals can choose to work in a warehouse at night, which is usually a shift 10 pm – 6 am.
- Picking warehouse operatives – these workers focus on picking orders and may do packing duties.
- Rotating warehouse operatives – these jobs require individuals to work days and nights on rotating shifts, which can often be tough on a person’s body clock.
- Seasonal warehouse operatives – these are temporary, seasonal opportunities which usually coincide with busy periods, such as summer holidays or Christmas.
- Voice-picking warehouse operatives – this role requires individuals to use voice-picking, which supports and guides them in their role. These systems are hands- and eyes-free and can prevent picking errors.
Specialist warehouse operative roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. All warehouse operatives must have good physical fitness and strength and be able to work to deadlines and meet targets. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what an organisation is looking for and the warehouse operative role an individual wants. Further training may be necessary for some jobs, e.g. a forklift truck certificate.
Warehouse operatives not competently carrying out their roles can result in damaged or missing goods, customer complaints and financial losses for businesses. It can also increase the risk of accidents, injuries and ill health, as warehouses are hazardous. Therefore, whatever the type of role, warehouse operatives must have the necessary training and competence to carry out their work professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency, i.e. asking for help when something is beyond their expertise.
Procedures, equipment, goods, laws, technologies and standards are changing regularly. Therefore, warehouse operatives must keep ahead of the latest developments and changes to carry out their roles effectively, safely and correctly. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives warehouse operatives the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes and progress in their careers.
Joining a professional body, scheme, union or association (as previously mentioned) can help individuals enhance their skills and overall career. These offer different levels of membership, CPD, support, access to industry contacts and networking events.
There is ample opportunity for career progression for warehouse operatives. With more training and experience, they could become warehouse managers, shift supervisors or team leaders. Alternatively, they could train to become forklift drivers.
Knowledge, skills and experience from being a warehouse operative can also lead to a career in different warehousing areas. For example, they could move into distribution, freight planning or quality control.
Get started on a course suitable for becoming a warehouse operative
COSHH Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Resilience Training£20 + VAT View course
Health and Safety for Employees£20 + VAT View course
Working at height£20 + VAT View course
LOLER£20 + VAT View course
Workplace Stress Awareness£20 + VAT View course
COVID-19 Awareness£5 + VAT View course
Spill Management£20 + VAT View course
PUWER Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Assessing Risk (Risk Assessment Course)£20 + VAT View course
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)£20 + VAT View course
Time Management£20 + VAT View course
Workplace First Aid£20 + VAT View course
Customer Service Skills£20 + VAT View course
Manual Handling£20 + VAT View course
Fire Safety Awareness£20 + VAT View course