Hello! I’m sorry I haven’t posted in so long. I will explain. On Monday January 25 I started my new job as a warehouse worker for Scotch & Soda, a fashion designer based in Amsterdam Netherlands. Ilka works for Scotch & Soda already, she is the Team Lead for the IT department. Working for the warehouse I am not an employee of Scotch & Soda, I actually work for Seggment, a hiring agency here in the Netherlands. They are similar to Randstand (another Dutch Company) or Manpower, they recruit workers for the warehouse and are paid by Scotch & Soda. Almost every worker in the warehouse, with the exception of the supervisors and managers are Polish, as the Polish workers can come to the Netherlands and work for significantly higher wages than are available in Poland. So although the “official” language is English, Polish is spoken routinely, & most notices in the warehouse are written in Polish, so the employees can understand them without issue. We are all considered temporary employees, hired at will much like Kentucky laws. Ilka. as an employee of Scotch & Soda has a contact, but her contract does not expire so she is a permanent employee.
Currently, the warehouse is in the middle of a season change, changing from the Winter Collection to the Summer Collection, so due to the very heavy demand from the stores for the new products & the very heavy inflow of new merchandise, we are working 10.5 hour days, from 0700-1800 (7:00AM-6:00PM) Monday through Friday. We are not currently working Saturdays, but that is not guaranteed. Scotch & Soda has 3 warehouses in the area, each with a different purpose, ours is retail fulfillment. The web warehouse did work a Saturday shift before Christmas, as Ilka was asked to come in and provide instant support if needed. It turned out she wasn’t needed.
Although I worked 12 hour shifts at CompuCom, that was 12 hours basically sitting at a desk staying awake. Before I started working, I stated earlier I have been taking long walks, and my step count was around 4000 steps a day average. After my first 10.5 hour shift I took 23000 steps, and my average jumped in one day to over 5000. Currently it sits at over 7300, and that doesn’t count the 2 or 3 hours my phone battery was dead Friday. Monday night when I got in the car, my feet felt like they were on fire and I was totally spent. I haven’t worked that hard since I worked at UPS in 2008. I am assigned to the receiving department, so every box that comes in is touched by our team. Something I learned is that these containers that are commonly used to transport so many things around the world, do not use pallets for loading. They are loaded, floor to ceiling by hand, because there are so many types of pallets used around the world. In the US the standard is 40″ x 48″ but there are places in the US that use different pallets and here we use yet another dimension of pallet, so they shippers in Asia simply load the containers without pallets. So when a container truck arrives we unload the container box by box and load them onto pallets using a conveyor. Some of the pallets we load will need to be restacked 2 or 3 times, to break a load down further into different colors or designs and finally to different sizes so when the boxes are placed for picking, all of certain color or design are stacked side by side by size for ease in picking. We break down the pallets as we unload the containers but there are many different items that come in together, it would take too long to try to lay out enough pallets to try to sort everything as it comes off the container. As it is we probably lay out anywhere from 15 to 25 pallets and unload hundreds of boxes.
This week has had me doing a dizzying array of tasks, to show me what goes on in the warehouse and to prove what I have claimed. I have claimed two things which I have proven, First I am not afraid of hard work, I am at the receiving desk by 0700, and I leave when I am told to at 1800 & I am working in between except during my breaks. Second I know how to drive & use a forklift safely. We currently have a forklift driver Kasia, who is very good at her job, but she will be leaving with the team she works with most of the day at the end of February as they set up in a new warehouse and we will still need a forklift driver. So on Thursday evening about 1700 (5:00PM) by supervisor Yousry comes over and says “Bill, you know how to drive one of these things?” and points to the forklift. I reply “Yes, sir I drove one for about six months in the US.” “Ok, go use it.” I walk over Kasia gives me a 3 second here are the controls and steps off the forklift. I play with the controls for a moment, then I drove a little to get used to the steering and acceleration. Finally Yousry says “Get to work.” The warehouse is 2 floors, and there is an opening where things can be raised or lowered to the second floor. We were actually raising a lot of stock up for setting up for picking & a lot empty boxes, trash and empty pallets were being lowered so I spent the rest of my shift working on the forklift. Kasia was watching me closely, Yousry was coming over to check on me and also to alter my controls to see if I noticed (I did, and adjusted or changed them back.) Of interest were two other observers, our warehouse manager Alain who was watching walked past and said “You can operate this thing, very good.” The other was Ilka, her shift ended earlier and she came down to say Hello and saw me on the forklift and took a picture. For those not on FaceBook it is at the top of the post.
Among the other tasks that I have learned was that we also remove old collections to make room for new collections, clean the floor space and build up the picking area for picking. To maximize floor space, a lot of items are removed from pallets once in the new space so we can put as many items as possible in a space. We create aisles of clothes and the picking team creates aisle numbers using an overhead cable & movable numbers that hang over each aisle. I also helped for a few hours in the picking area to see what the results of my work were. The pick sheets have an item number and aisle number listed along with the number of items that need to be selected.
Another task that we assist with is the separation of what is known as odd boxes. Sometimes our orders cause a full box of an item to not be created so several sizes are lumped into one box. These have to be separated into their individual sizes to be picked. We have several folks who do this but when we get several containers back to back, it is too much for them to handle. Friday afternoon around 1530 (3:30PM) we were done sorting out all the boxes onto pallets for movement, so we all grabbed a box, sat down (one of a few times we sit) and sorted the boxes. That was done just before the end of our shift Friday which ends an hour early at 1700 (5:00PM). So I am working a 51.5 hour week, it will go to either 39 or 40 in March. The Scotch & Soda staff only work until 1600 (4:00PM) in Friday, I don’t know if the warehouse is included in that schedule or not.
I have also been tapped by the senior warehouse manager John to be his helper when he needs assistance. I helped him part of Thursday, and he told me he will get me to help him whenever he wants, he has cleared it with Yousry & Alain, whenever he asks me to help him, I’m to stop what I am doing and help him. Generally so far it is making sure the large truck they rent to move large amounts of things between warehouses that our courier does not have the room or resources to move. The truck is rented by the hour and for both receiving & shipping it is not a priority to load his truck. John has said he plans to take me on a tour of the other two warehouses so I understand better how the warehousing operates. On a more humorous note, he occasionally forgets that I am not fluent in Dutch, so he will turn around start explaining what he wants me to do in Dutch then “Oh right, English.” and explain his instructions again. As I gain fluency in Dutch this won’t be as much of an issue.
How was my week you ask? Well jumping from 4000 to 23000 steps a day was a shock, and going from a walk in the neighborhood and maybe a few small tasks around the house to heavy lifting and work for 10.5 hours was quite a shock to my system. Monday night I was nearly in tears from the foot pain at 1800 (6:00PM) and almost too exhausted to do much other than fall into the car for the ride home. As soon as we got home, I got into the shower, went upstairs to eat and was in bed and asleep by 2030 (8:30PM) to wake up again at 0515 (5:15AM). Tuesday & Wednesday I was less tired both days (and my step count was going up) but the situation with my feet was not improving. Thursday I tried using the company issued safety shoes with no better success. Thursday night waiting for me at home were a pair of very good quality insoles purchased by my mother-in-law, Ria. I put them in my shoes and Friday was a good day for my feet, good enough that I wanted to go grocery shopping after work with Ilka. So after one week, my stamina to handle the work load is good, but it will take a while for my feet to catch up. I also have to take into account that in 2008 when I worked at UPS I was only about 70 kg (155lbs) but earlier this week I stepped on the scale and was 104kg (230lbs.) about the heaviest I have ever been in my life. I think working in the warehouse will actually kill two birds with one stone, I’ll make a fairly decent wage and lose a few kilograms in the process.
We live about 45 minutes away from the warehouse, including traffic even at 0630 (6:30AM). Our route is the main route into Amsterdam from the west so the traffic is very heavy even that early. When our work schedule goes back to normal in March to 0830-1700 (8:30AM-5:00PM) our commute time will increase to over 1 hour again due to traffic on the highway.
I’m certain a few people are asking themselves “Why did Bill go back to warehouse work, when he spent 8 years in IT work, & 11 years in telecommunications work which as he got promoted and telecommunications turned more & more into IT work?” The answered are varied and complex. The easy answer is I needed a job and knew my two greatest strengths are warehouse & IT work. Seggment offered me a job that paid above the Dutch minimum wage € 347,95 ($376.85) per week and did not require a BSN (Social Security Number). Currently my Dutch language skill is nil, I know a few words and phrases but that is all, so a job interview in Dutch would be nearly impossible. There are many Dutch companies with offices in Amsterdam or Rotterdam that use English as the official office language but Dutch of course would be common for non work related conversation. The more complex is that although warehouse work seems easy, it is challenging to my mind. When we set up areas for picking we make sure that similar types of clothing are together, but you do not want to place the same colors or designs too close together, for example a shirt & pants that are the same color do not want to be side by side as it would cause pickers to pick the shirt instead of the pants for example, yet you do want them close enough that if a store wants shirts and pants of the same color they can be picked easily. Operating a forklift is not an easy task either, carelessness or lack of ability could cause someone to be hurt or killed. In an even deeper level, there is a satisfaction that after an area is set up for picking, or the receiving area is full of pallets and at the end of the day it is empty and I have a small sheen of sweat on me, that I have earned my pay.
These are the containers used to ship most things into our warehouse. Most of these are 40 feet long, but there are smaller ones. So far all I have seen at the warehouse is the 40 foot containers.
I do read all the comments everyone makes, if you want send me an e-mail or ping me on FaceBook. I have already been given some ideas for future articles, but those will take time to write and research.