Disclaimer: We are not spokespersons or officially affiliated with Amazon in any way. This account is of our personal experience as seasonal employees in the Cambellsville, KY distribution center in 2017. I in no way speak for the company or my co-workers, and am only recounting my personal experiences. Also, any details I get wrong in this or any other post are due to a misunderstanding on my part and are not intentional.
Day 0 (That’s what Amazon calls Orientation Day)
Our orientation day was on Monday morning at 12:00pm. We arrived about 20 minutes early and were the second ones to arrive and met our trainer who was handing out our badges. I was pleasantly surprised that my badge and picture were ready and everyone in our group had their badges in place when we arrived. We waited until noon in a large, well lit foyer area that had lots of cool information on the walls, and then we walked through security (testing our badges) and into the break room. The best part was right at noon we saw two smiling faces through the security window, and Bill and Linda were waving at us on their way to their lunch break. So sweet!
The break room was awesome. 20 plus microwaves, large coolers for lunches, and free coffee or hot chocolate. There is also a semi enclosed smoking area with picnic tables and some heaters available for us outside of security. To get into the break room you have to badge through some metal turnstiles and when you are leaving you have to go through a metal detector. Honestly it was all a little confusing at first, but eventually we understood it.
Upon entering the breakroom an employee was waiting to take a picture of our ID. Despite what we read that stated we needed two forms, they accepted just our passports, and quickly took a picture of those. Then we talked to our trainer for a moment and were led into a training room in the warehouse. The warehouse was really cool. Extremely neat, great lighting, and lots of signage. One of my first jobs was working security in a warehouse so I had some basis of comparison, and again was pleasantly surprised.
After coming in to the training room we watched a series of videos. Our trainer was funny and kept things moving along but it was a bit confusing in parts because what was on the slides didn’t apply to us at all. Some modules, like safety training, were for everyone, but many of the benefit options didn’t apply. We also went over the attendance policy numerous times and it was VERY clear they take it seriously. There is a point system for being late, leaving early, or missing work and a clear write-up policy that goes along with the points. That didn’t really bother me, because I like clear and well defined rules, but Lee was definitely getting a little antsy. It was all a bit heavy handed, but then again they take this stuff very seriously, and we certainly got that.
Personally, I liked a lot of what I saw. As a certified Six Sigma Black Belt it made me happy to see so many of those tools actually being used and I loved their 360 feedback approach and the Voice of Associate comment boards they had throughout the warehouse. I also really appreciated a video that we saw on Workplace Violence. The video was produced by Homeland Security in Houston and I think it has value for everyone to see. I have linked a version of it here if you are interested.
I will say towards the end things did feel very rushed. We had 8 minutes for questions and he cut them off at exactly 8 minutes and then took us out through security and to our lockers. We had an 11 point sheet with information about our lockers on it, but it didn’t tell us how to open a combination lock. Imagine my surprise when I couldn’t remember how to open one, but thankfully this very nice couple walked us through it. It’s been years since I have used one, but was pretty embarrassed that I couldn’t remember how, and I wasn’t the only one in the group.
I think as a general comment that was the major problem with the training. It took for granted that you knew certain things and those of us who were first timers were a little lost. I am equally sure that most of it was very boring for returning employees, so I am not sure it served either population very well. We were also told the the training used to be 5 hours long, but the time had been reduced to 3.5 hours. This really showed as we rushed through several sections and didn’t cover the work place harassment or ethics videos at all.
All in all I got what I needed from it, but Lee just endured it. There were some technical difficulties with the videos, which drove him crazy, and there were several specific questions that were asked that couldn’t be answered. Let me give you a quick example. We needed to know about Voluntary Overtime (which you sign up for) and Mandatory Overtime (which you are required to do), We were initially told we could get text messages sent to us via a web portal regarding both, but when I asked a follow-up question were told Mandatory overtime wasn’t on the Hub yet. Later in the class I asked exactly how we would find out about mandatory overtime and was told there were message boards in the warehouse, but I was a little fuzzy on the colors that were being used. I was also told, after asking, that we would know if we had mandatory overtime by lunch time on Thursdays because our mandatory OT day is Sunday. The reason I asked so much about this is three different people have told me they missed their first mandatory overtime day because they weren’t notified. They not only missed making money, but they also received points for missing a shift. Eventually the points were removed, but they had to go to HR to have that done. I wanted to make sure that wouldn’t happen to us and asked the question.
Let’s just say I was still not 100% confident after I received my answers, but hopefully our full day training tomorrow, will answer most of the remaining questions I have. It’s a bummer that we have to work 5:30pm -4am tomorrow, but it’s only one day and those of us who are on swing shift got stuck training on nights. Again, good start for me, not so great for Lee, but we will see how it goes. Oh, and as a starting point my weight is 139 pounds and Lee’s is 189. We will be counting steps and seeing how much weight we lose.
Tracy: 2050 Steps (approximately .86 miles)
Lee: (Didn’t count steps today because I didn’t have a pedometer and kept losing track of the count when people talked to me. – Lee)
Day 1 – Safety School & Process School
Because there were only a few of us on swing shift, they had to decide whether to have us training on the day shift or night shift. We ended up training on nights which was rough because we had to work (for just this one day) from 5:30pm – 4:00am. I woke up at my regular time was thankfully able to take a nap for a few hours before we went to work. Lee slept in until 8am and ultimately ended up staying awake until 5am the next morning. Ultimately I will say we preferred training on the night shift. It was much quieter for one thing, and when we were turned loose to do our job at the end of the night, there was barely anyone around, which I appreciated.
Which brings me to the size of the warehouse. It looked on the smallish side on the outside and we eventually learned that Cambellsville is one of the very first 5 Amazon warehouse buildings. Newer facilities are much bigger, but even though it looked small there is a ton of stuff in that building. It has multiple floors for one thing and everything is so neatly packed it’s amazing how much stuff is in there. It’s truly mind blowing and I wasn’t surprised when we were told they ship 2-3 million items every week.
We also learned there are some differences between the Camperforce seasonal staff and the regular employees. First of all the productivity levels are set lower for us, and most importantly we are only expected to work 10 hours of mandatory OT rather then the 20 hours that the full time staff works. We also learned a ton about safety. Several people told us the safety school was the worst part, but I thought it was great thathey went to so much trouble to properly train us. We took a tour with our small group and the coolest thing was we each had a headset and our tour guide had a headset and microphone, so even though we were out on the floor we could hear every word. That was really awesome for Lee since he has trouble hearing in noisy environments, and I just wish they would have used those same headsets when we broke off into smaller training groups later.
We also went through a series of stations and first learned and then tried simple daily activities. Although there was a bit too much repetition for my taste, I did learn a lot, and I have no doubt the tips we learned will help me physically throughout the season. The most important thing I learned was to have my nose follow my toes, which means you turn your whole body and avoid twisting. That’s going to be tough for me, but really important. After safety school we took a break and then we had Hazmat training. Of everything we learned this was probably the most poorly done, as it was simply our trainer reading off cards. Lee and I both initially failed the small test they gave, but were coached and eventually passed it. I did learn that perfume is highly flammable which was interesting.
Finally we were ready to go out on the floor and with a small group of four people were assigned an Ambassador to show us the ropes. The first part of her tour was much less polished, and without the headsets we really had to listen carefully. She was a nice person though, and loosened up as the night went on, sharing with us some of the tips of the trade, which I really appreciated. The training worked for me, as she showed us picking, then let us try and ultimately turned us loose for an hour or so. Lee and I were both relieved to get started, and since our picking intentionally kept us in a relatively small area we both rocked it. My rate was 64 items per hour (I picked 4-1/2 tubs worth) and Lee was at a whopping 96 per hour. A lot of that has to do with where your items are in proximity to each other and how many multiple quantities from one bin you pick, but I was pleased nonetheless by how comfortable I felt.
And at least for me that first night wasn’t boring. We will see how that plays out as we go along, but I found I needed to pay pretty close attention. The worst part for Lee was the smoking. It’s been over 20 years since he had a job where he couldn’t smoke whenever he wanted and depending on the break schedule, we can go as long as 3 hours without a cigarette. I was pleasantly surprised by how well I did with that, but for Lee it will take some adjustment. The good news for me is multiple people said we did NOT have to go to the bathroom on our breaks. I have read some complaints about that in other blogs, but this year at least it is a complete non issue.
Tracy: 12,010 steps
Lee: 13,204 steps
Day 2 – On The Job Training
Today was a 5 hour day, which was nice because it gave our bodies time to acclimate and allowed us some time to get back on our regular sleep schedule. We came in at 5:30pm and started the night at a quick start up meeting. These meetings are at the beginning of the shift and after lunch, and involve the managers talking about production levels (which I really don’t understand at this point) and the team doing stretches. One of the biggest complaints I have heard from people about Amazon is these daily stretches, but honestly I don’t understand what the big deal is. Any of us who have played sports know how important stretching is, and yes, it is kind of goofy doing it with a bunch of other people, but it’s not like a military exercise or anything. It’s pretty informal and attendance isn’t exactly taken, plus it is literally 5-7 minutes of your day. (Not to mention that it actually works. – Lee)
After the stand up meeting they broke us newbies out and put us in two small groups. Lee and I were split up this time and we both got different trainers from yesterday. This was a nice touch, in my opinion, because I learned different things than the day before. We spent some time going through a series of exercises on what to do in “special circumstances” (missing product, defective product etc) and then they sent us out on the floor. (I do not so much enjoy the constant repetition in training, particularly if I’ve started the process of doing the thing. The “real world” is rarely the same as the training, and so it’s difficult to pay attention to something I’m told over and over that I already know from experience to be inaccurate. For example, if every day someone tells me a bus will arrive at noon sharp, and I see with my own eyes that bus actually always arrives at 12:07, and after a week of that I am given a test wherein I am asked what time the bus arrives, the answer would be 12:07. Also, I’ve just never felt that vocal repetition is an effective method. Hearing something doesn’t connect it to anything in my brain. You can tell me a phone number 1,000 times and I will never remember it, but if I dial it two or three times it will be permanently embedded in my memory. I still remember phone numbers from when I was 12. If I’ve already heard something, my brain just ignores it the second time around, and anything new they might add gets missed. And there’s ALWAYS something new. Rote learning sort of works for certain things, but rarely for processes, and never when the process varies from the training. In that case only active learning works. YMMV. – Lee)
Amazon has a concept of standard work, and the expectation that quality will be 100% from day 1. Standard work basically means doing the same thing the same way every time and although they go to great pains to allow you a learning curve on how fast things take, they do want high quality from Day 1. Taking my friend Bill’s advice I found a pace that worked for me and gradually built on it. They seemed to like this approach as I was largely left alone during the training period. They stopped by and checked on me a couple of times, but aside from a few questions I felt good.
I did want to check if my pace was OK and managed to get them to tell me the target rates. They were hesitant to say, but eventually I found out that the regular employees are expected to pick 85 an hour (although the really important number is productivity percentage which takes into account how far away you have to walk for each pick). Seasonal employees only have to make 80% of that (about 68 per hour) and since I was pacing at 74 picks an hour I was doing just fine.
Lee, on the other hand, was getting lots of attention from the trainers, and not the good kind. He was pacing at 96 picks an hour immediately, and since he was an outlier they kept coming over and watching his process. They made lots of corrections to how he was doing things, which he largely found annoying. In all fairness he is a lefty and has always found different ways to complete tasks to accommodate that. Plus he has really strong wrists (so he didn’t want to put the scanner down every time), moves very quickly, and he just thinks about things in a different way. Put all that together and he wasn’t following their standard process, although his results seemed pretty good. Hence tons of attention. (We’ll see how this goes. I’ve never been a big believer in doing something in a certain way just because someone says it’s the best way. It usually isn’t, and if I can do something better (faster/safer/more efficiently) it’s hard to let that go. I could talk about this all day, but suffice it to say that I don’t thrive in this sort of environment, for a whole mess of reasons, so it’s nice to know if I have to do a substandard job because “that’s the way it is”, I will, to get the money, but it will make me a little sad and annoyed. I’m very curious to see what the accuracy numbers are. – Lee)
I enjoyed being left alone and actually found the job to be relaxing, but he was frustrated by the extra attention and corrections. We will see how that all plays out over time, but if you are a person like me who just wants to come in and fly under the radar I suggest not going overboard right off the bat. Pick a speed that works for you and build your pace gradually. Focus on learning your way around the building (a huge challenge for me) and learning the ins and outs of the way things work, especially in the first few days.
Tracy: 8,054 steps
Lee: 10,675 steps
Interesting Item Picked: Peace of Mind Planner This is a hardback book that has details on your end of life wishes, financials etc. Seemed like a cool thing to have filled out just in case, but I wondered if it would send a weird message to buy one for our parents 🙂
Day 3 – On The Job Training
I woke up this morning a little sore, but overall feeling OK. My shoulder blade muscles on my left side are pretty achy, probably because I am taking their advice and trying to use my left hand and arm more. I also had a little soreness in my right hip, but again, nothing too serious. I tend to be super sensitive to my body when we work these physical jobs though, because a minor issue can become a major one with repetitive activities. I have found that the best way to stop this from happening is to catch it early and as much as possible change how I do things slightly to put less pressure on that area of the body. Essentially if I am sore all over that’s OK, but if one area becomes over stressed that’s generally not a good thing for me. (I feel great. – Lee)
Since Kelly and Bill were off we asked if they wanted to try lunch at the college and we ended up buying a 10-punch card for $61. Initially I thought that we each had to buy a punch card and with our schedule I wasn’t sure we would use it enough, but multiple people can share the punches and I am sure we will go at least 5 times. The food was decent and there was lots of variety, plus I liked the vibe, It was a mix of students, teachers, and work kampers like us. Afterwards we drove out of town a little bit and went to the Taste Like Home Country Market. They had lots of dried good, jams, preserves, a small deli and bakery. Most of their product comes from from a factory in Pennsylvania, but the prices were decent and the quality was pretty good.
The best part of the lunch (despite hanging with Kelly and Bill of course) was picking Bill’s brain on training versus reality in the picker job. Overall the job is pretty close to how we were trained, but one item we discussed was whether or not to hold the scanner in the hand after scanning a bin, while taking out the bin to pull things out. Bins are drawers that start at the floor and go up to about 7 feet, and although some of them are at a level that they can be pulled out halfway, about a third have to be taken out completely and set on the cart while you poke through them looking for an item. Lee and Bill have nice strong wrists and longer fingers, and the scanner never leaves their hands. (Setting the scanner down is awkward and clumsy and wastes time. There’s a hole in the cart where people put the scanner handle, but then it’s awkward and clumsy to take out again. The people who put the items INTO the bins (stowers) have a different cart, so they have a holster mounted on the cart. THAT’S what I need. One of those on my belt would allow me to quickly and efficiently access the scanner. I asked around to see if I could get one, but was told that they don’t distribute them because the carts already have holes. You know who has them? Amazon. $26 is a very reasonable. I figure if I will be using it around 1000 times per day, for 35 days (that’s 5 days per week for 7 weeks) I’m spending a number per use that is so small my calculator won’t tell me what it is. So I’ll go with an hourly rate instead. If we work 10 hours a day, 5 days a week for 7 weeks, that’s 350 hours. So this thing will cost me about $ .07 per hour. That’s a decent value. – Lee)
My wrists have always been a problem area for me, so I am putting the scanner down each time as we were trained. This costs some extra time, but I am still doing fine overall. But to really set speed records shaving those few seconds off matters. (Maybe I should get her a holster, too. – Lee)
Speaking of speed records, Lee was picking 118 items per hour at one point today. Now to be fair this was when he was in one small area and we didn’t have to walk steps in training. Still it must have been somewhat unusual because numerous supervisors came over and spent some time watching him. He did fine with only a couple minor corrections in his process, but even he admits that pace is not sustainable when you are working 10 hour shifts/50 hour weeks. It was largely a mental challenge for him to see how fast he could safely go in the process, which if nothing else kept him entertained. (That kind of rate is completely unsustainable. In order to hit that I was sweating profusely and too focused. Think of it like driving far too fast on an unfamiliar road. You can do it for a while, but after a bit you start to get frazzled and tired and you’re much more likely to make a mistake. I ended up the day with about 97 units per hour, but I don’t even think that’s sustainable for 10 hours a day, 5 days a week. It’s like a puzzle. The process is incredibly repetitive, so I enjoy breaking the entire chain down into individual steps and then changing one step in a tiny way to see what effect that change has on the entire process. Doing the same thing over and over again several hundred times allows to do that and see pretty fast results. The data nerd in me is in heaven. The worst part is that we aren’t allowed any kind of electronics and taking written notes is way too time consuming, so I have to remember whatever data I can for comparison. The problem with that is that is uses a lot of short term memory, and short term memory is used a lot in this process, to be efficient. I’m seriously geeking out, so it doesn’t even feel like work. It’s like I’m getting paid to play, and get exercise. – Lee)
I, on the other hand, had a rough night stats wise. During our shift we were frequently interrupted to answer pop quiz questions and I found it difficult to find my rhythm again after each interruption. Definitely using a different part of my brain for this job. Plus the computer kept moving me from section (called a Mod) to section and each time I was moved I had to leave my cart, find the place, orient myself, and then find a new cart. To be clear the stats take all of the into account from a productivity perspective, but the numbers per hour and total picked do suffer. And I want to be super clear that no one training us really cares about how we are doing at this point. The numbers are only available to us in one place on a paper copy, and they disappear after one day. In order to even get the numbers for today’s post Lee went in and looked at it (I told him he was crazy to go in on our day off but he wanted to know), so it’s going to be hit and miss how often I report out on it. (We’re literally one minute away from the building. Last night I had on the wrong shoes and I really started to hurt, so at my 8:00 15 minute break I jumped in the truck and drove home to change them. I was back with enough time to smoke a cigarette. So popping over there to get these stats is no big deal, and without the data I will be miserable. – Lee)
It actually surprises me to be honest that these numbers are not readily available, but there are some significant downsides to people “chasing numbers.” Folks start cutting corners, focusing on the wrong things, etc and the overall greater mission can suffer. Still there have to be other people who are curious, so maybe I’ll ask next week if they can print me a weekly report. You know that information is somewhere.
Anyway, my feet did hurt after the five hour shift (I soaked them in cold water and it really helped. Thanks Denny for giving us that square collapsible bowl Lee said we would never use!!! It was perfect!) and I am a little nervous about next week. Our voluntary 10 hours of overtime on Sunday has turned into Mandatory 10 hours and even though we were going to work anyway that bugged me since we just started. Our trainers also get to decide whether to unlock us for multiple buildings (I still can’t find my way around easily without asking for help) and of course we are adding stairs which is going to stress our knees. Speaking of knees, I mentally groan every time we get a pick that is in bin A or bin B. Those are always on the bottom and you have to kneel down to pick from them. I had 6 A’s in a row last night and kneeling down, and then getting up was rough. (They do offer very nice industrial knee pads you can wear through your shift, for free, which is nice. – Lee)
Speaking of help, I will say almost every person I have asked for assistance has been really nice. I always start with an apology and “I’m new” and people are happy to stop what they are doing and point me in the right direction. I appreciate that, because these folks do this year round and it must be annoying to have all of us descend on them once a year. But politeness goes a long way and letting my hometown accent out doesn’t hurt either, since I grew up in a small town less than 4 hours from here. Going forward I expect these daily posts to be shorter as we fall into a routine, but for now I am finding all of this pretty fascinating.
(UPDATE: I popped over to the building today to take a look at the report so I could include units picked in this post, but I have some questions about the format of the report and I couldn’t find anyone to answer them, and didn’t want to be a pain in anyone’s butt. I will be a pain in someone’s butt when we start our new week on Sunday. For now, the information below is listed in the report as week cumulative, but what I don’t know is which days are included. We picked for an hour or so on Day 1, and at least four hours each on Day 2 and 3. Yesterday was by far the most we did, and it’s hard to believe that in all the hours we worked we only picked those amounts, but for now, this is all I have. – Lee)
Tracy: 13,261 steps
Items picked: 563
Lee: ?????? steps (My $4 Wal Mart pedometer says I walked 2,000 steps today, no way that’s true. I got a better one so starting Sunday I’ll have real data. – Lee)
Items picked: 706
Interesting Item Picked: At one point I picked a Islamic Prayer shawl and it did give me pause. It seemed wrong somehow to just throw it into a tote and I made sure I carefully placed it and then closed out that tote so nothing would go on top of it. It made me think about how strange it was something like that went through Amazon Fulfillment Center and when I mentioned it to Lee he said he found a Jewish prayer shawl in a bin among thigh high fishnet stockings and other sexy clothing. Yes, the shawls were completely covered in plastic, but since they are religious items that seemed wrong somehow. That’s the reality of the world we are living in though, and somewhere in this warehouse I am sure there are Jewish shawls and Islamic shawls sitting side by side. Made me think.
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