What use to take five to seven business days when ordering online now takes just a mere few hours for the package to land at the front door after hitting the "buy" button.
So, what has changed and what is going on behind the scenes?
Sellers, both online only and retailers, are frantically building new warehouses closer to their consumers to beat the competition to the door.
For the past couple of years, approximately 2013 to 2015, prime rents for warehouses are upwards of 9.9 percent across the U.S. and up and even more in urban areas.
Online buying makes for about 20 percent of present day purchasing, according to Eric Frankel, an analyst at Green Street Advisors. Frankel says that retail sales had been a bit slower than in previous economic expansions, but demand for warehouse space close to major population centers is extremely hot. The commodity for online sales startup competition is fierce. Shippers, such as FedEx, UPS and traditional retailers like Macy's, want to join in the world of same-day delivery.
Much of the warehouse craze is a reaction to a single player: Amazon.com. Amazon has built a massive network of distribution centers as the muscle behind its re-education of the American consumer. Online shoppers are now used to fast delivery times and some retailers are building online shipping directly from brick and mortar stores as well as a warehouse.
High demand for forklift operators
What does all this growth mean to the retailers besides buildings? The need for more forklift operators. Driving a forklift is not a simple job. It requires unique skills, unlike other warehouse jobs. Pick, pack and ship operations rely largely on workers at conveyor belts pulling items to pack basically utilizing the mechanical equipment.
Online job site Careerbuilder.com shows 1,515 ads for forklift operators across U.S. compared to 1,748 jobs for all warehouse workers that includes material handlers, dock workers, package handlers, general production, and picker, just to name a few. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), forklift operator careers are expected to grow by more than 12 percent by 2020.
In addition to the needs for forklift operators in the U.S., there is an increasing growth for forklift operators overseas and beyond the online shopping world. Countries such as Russia and China spend billions on repairing energy pipelines that require forklift operators to move and organize pipeline components.
The immense transportation routes from China need forklift operators to move products from ships and factories to warehouses. There is a strong need for forklift drivers to move products from a warehouse to trucks for transport to domestic and foreign markets. Not only does the U.S. have a need for forklift operators, so do other countries such as India, Brazil, and Canada.
New forklift training options
The operation of a forklift can bring either much-needed supply chain support or a disaster for the product and operator. Proper training is crucial to avoid what could be a serious injury.
Chip Newhart, the safety manager at Baltimore Forest Products Terminals, recalls in an interview in Inbound Logistics, that a forklift operator ran into a building support column. As he was driving towards a cargo shipment, he couldn't see around the load which was large bales of wood pulp. But that is not the reason he hit it. As it turned out, a manager at the company parked his car mistakenly in the location the forklift driver usually took, so he had to use an alternate route and didn't realize that a column was in the way.
Meeting the urgency for forklift operator training
To fill the demand for forklift operator jobs, newer training technologies such as using virtual reality (VR) software are being used.
U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognizes the VR training and certification as a viable option to meet the training demands in the market. The training can be done at work or at home on a desktop, laptop, mobile phone or tablet as long as the student has an Internet connection.
To get forklift operators ready for warehouse work requires several skills beyond pushing the "on" button. OSHA requirements include:
• Forklift workers should not operate a forklift unless or until they have been trained and licensed.
• All comprehensive written and safety programs have been completed.
• Training must address issues that affect the stability of a forklift.
• Stand-up forklift operators must hold on firmly, and lean away from the point of impact using rear-entry access.
• All operator restraints must be used on sit-down forklifts.
• All lift truck operators must do a full safety inspection of their vehicle prior to starting work.
Newer forklift technology
The days of forklifts operating in dirty warehouses are long gone. Technology has transformed the old forklift with barcode scanners and labels on packages, shipping pallets that tell shippers and receivers exactly what's in that bundle of freight as soon as it hits the loading dock.
Forklifts and trucks are now equipped with Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. RFID technology is essential to warehouse operations. Radio waves can locate, read and gather information stored on a tag printed on an object. The tag can be read from several feet away using a scanner. The information is downloaded to a database, logged for storage and recorded using electronic data interchange (EDI) technology.
The data-gathering process sends the information to distribution centers and is then sent throughout all segments of the supply chain.
There are a lot of moving parts in the shipping and transporting process to keep the supply chain going. In order to load and offload cargo from the plant to distributors and then from distributors to consumers takes fully trained warehouse operation personnel.
Logistics is critical to keep the supply chain process going. To stay up with the demand and warehouse technology at all levels, in particular, the forklift operation, is essential.