How To Train Your Employees To Read Shipping Labels Properly

Container and shipping labels are essential tools for tracking product through different stages in the plant manufacturing process. Hopefully, you have already invested in barcoding, automation, and lean flow. To maximize those efficiencies, staff involved in sowing, sticking, plant maintenance, growing, and shipping need to know how to read and interpret labels.

When varieties are mixed up while patching or pulling an order, delays and mistakes will cost your company in labor, customer credits, and reputation. We pack a lot of complex information onto modern labels, which is not obvious to a new employee. Investing in simple tools and a training program for new employees will easily pay back many times over.

In the Floriculture Research Alliance, we have worked with our industry research partners to develop a simple approach to label training. Our training approach has three steps: (1) Take photos of your labels and provide new employees with a laminated tool they can carry around in their back pockets for reference. (2) Help your supervisor to train new employees on the labels and the tool. (3) Test and verify that workers have understood the training and gained the necessary skills.

Step One: A Back Pocket Label Tool

Take a digital photo of a representative example of each of your label types (such as a tray or pot label, employee label, master pull, and individual shipping labels). Insert the images into PowerPoint or a similar graphical editing program. Crop the photos to trim out any background you do not need. Insert call-outs or text boxes that identify symbols, colors, numbers, and words. Discuss with the supervisor to ensure you use the same languages and jargon terms that your own employees use, because terms vary between countries of origin and greenhouse businesses (click here to download a list of common label terms in both English and Spanish). Print, trim the pages to pocket size, and laminate.

Step Two: Provide Training With The Label Tool

Help your supervisor teach the first training session. Supervisors may not initially have confidence or training experience. Do not assume that experienced staff can interpret and understand labels correctly. We suggest cross-training staff, because teams are often pulled into different tasks during peak production.

In other industries, new employees are required to run through a checklist of training topics such as safety, orientation, and skills, with set milestones. The seasonality of the greenhouse business makes this approach very important. However, few greenhouse growers have structured training programs in place. If you only rely on pairing a new employee with experienced staff, the risk is a drift away from standard operating procedures, knowledge gaps, and mixed quality of training. Make structured training a priority for your human resources department to develop in time for the coming spring peak.

Explain the parts of each type of label to your staff, using both the printed tool and other example labels. Encourage a positive environment to ask questions. Use repetition, question-and-answer, and different senses (spoken words, visual pictures, and hands-on examples of labels and plant containers for employees to touch). Provide a laminated copy of the tool to the employee and require them to carry this with them for the first week on the job (or until they have obtained the necessary knowledge).
It is likely you will need to explain concepts such as:
• The meaning of plant species and varieties (show examples you pull from the greenhouse). Species and variety identification is a more advanced topic to consider for additional training.
• Different container sizes and types (show examples)
• Locations within your greenhouse (do a walk-through, and consider printing out a laminated map)
• As a follow-up training topic, explain acceptable product quality for shipping and how to grade product.

Step Three: Verify Your Employees Have Learned The Necessary Skills

As an activity, show the employee example labels (not the same labels as in the tool or earlier training). Learning goals, which should be verified, are that an employee can:
• Identify all details on a label, such as the variety, crop code, tray size, start week, and ship week.
• Match a shipping pick list or shipping label with the corresponding tray or pot label.
• Find a product from the ship list in the greenhouse within an acceptable time without asking for directions.

During the first week, verify that the employee is still carrying the printed tool. The supervisor should plan on a spot check in the greenhouse where an employee is shown a tray or pot, and is asked to interpret all the information on the label. Continue to check, and verify that they are carrying the printed tool until they are 100% correct.

Consider providing an incentive for workers who have passed the label training course and verification.

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