Rob Kozlowski came to Ocado Group not long after leaving school, having had only two previous jobs: part-time bartender, and full time warehouse stock controller at another company. He was in that stock controller role for just over a year, but saw little prospect of opportunity or advancement.
That was when he found Ocado Group. He recalls: “I thought, maybe if I used my warehouse experience to get into another warehouse, but with a larger, growing company, I could then progress through the ranks towards management.”
His first role was as a Personal Shopper in the Dordon Customer Fulfillment Centre (CFC), working on 'frame load' - at the time, a manual stage in the Logistics process; delivery-ready tote boxes are loaded into large metal frames and those are, in turn, loaded into the delivery vans.
“I thought, maybe if I used my warehouse experience to get into another warehouse, but with a larger, growing company, I could then progress through the ranks towards management.”
Early on, Rob was inspired by a colleague’s move into the Tech Ops side of the business - an area that had always interested him. "I had a keen interest in engineering from a young age,” he explains. “I had enjoyed working with my dad on cars and motorbikes and knew I wanted to pursue some kind of related activity, either as a hobby or a job. So I thought I'd try my luck with that."
In 2013 Rob successfully applied for a Technical Assistant role at the Dordon CFC: "I was helping out maintenance technicians with all of their duties, carrying out visual inspections myself, and basically learning on the job."
The Next Moves
After only a year in that position, Rob was promoted to Maintenance Technician and given more responsibility - taking a front line role in maintenance at the CFC. "I had got some great feedback from senior engineers at the CFC,” he says. “...And I had already spent time working with most of the equipment we use.
“I think that's probably why I was put onto some of the more complex machinery from the start... I was working on tote cranes and pallet cranes, and then moved onto the 'shoe sorter' - a conveyor sub system that is part of our induction processes. We have two at Dordon and all of our products go through them, so they are crucial pieces of equipment.”
Rob worked in the Dordon maintenance team as a Technician for three years, during which time he was offered the chance to complete an level 3 NVQ mechanical engineering qualification. For that, candidates have to build a coursework and logbook portfolio, and take part in practical assessments.
For Rob, that opportunity coincided with another: "I was almost finished with my NVQ when an opportunity came along to apply for another step up, to Service Engineer,” he explains. “I applied, but because I hadn't completed the NVQ course yet I was offered a secondment to that role. Once I qualified, I was promoted to full time Service Engineer.”
Engineers at a CFC are rotated around main areas of the warehouse’s automated processes, overseeing those areas and running reactive maintenance.
Rob worked as a Service Engineer at Dordon for four years, and it was during this time that he started to get a feel for managing people, and gradually took on more responsibility. "I was overseeing people, delegating work, and I was responsible for anything that happened in my area,” he says. “I also started stepping up for my Engineering Team Manager (ETM) when he was away - looking after the shift team, liasing with the operations team, updating the business on key data - that kind of thing."
"I was the first engineering team member to join under the Lead Engineering Operations Manager… We've had to recruit the whole department from scratch.”
Rob realised it was time to make the next move, and he applied for an ETM role at the Dordon CFC. Unfortunately on that occasion, even though he received excellent feedback from the recruitment process, Rob wasn't successful. It didn’t deter him though: “Because the feedback I got from that application was so positive, when I saw the same role come up at the Bicester CFC, I tried again… It was an especially interesting opportunity because Bicester is a new site, and at the time was just starting to gear up for going live."
Rob started at the new Bicester CFC in October 2021, with the facility due to go 'live' in 2022. "I was the first engineering team member to join under the Lead Engineering Operations Manager,” he says. “We've had to recruit the whole department from scratch - more team managers, engineers, technicians, and so on. Then we had to get everybody trained, and ready to go in time to go-live."
Rob acknowledges that this was a big leap for him, even given his previous eight years experience at the Dordon CFC. The ETM is responsible for managing and mentoring a whole engineering shift team, running daily meetings, leading on safety matters; liasing with the retail teams, and reporting on key performance indicators across maintenance operations - a long way from his days in the loading bay. "I am proud of every jump I’ve made,” he says. “From passing spanners to technicians, to leading the service team; from following a tick sheet for planned maintenance, to thinking on my feet and reacting to breakdowns. This time I've gone from limited responsibilities to building a team from scratch… Yes, it's another challenging job, but I like a challenge."
“I try to go a little bit further; give a little bit extra. I have come across people who expect to get a promotion based on time served, not necessarily on performance. That’s not my way.
An important component that has unquestionably opened doors for Rob has been training. Ocado Technology recognises this as a key facilitator when it comes to opportunity. The Level 3 NVQ qualification, for example, was instrumental in Rob’s move to Engineer status, though it is just one part of a much wider programme, ranging from mandatory safety training to personalised pathways, that enable mobility. "I think another training opportunity that stood out for me was IOSH,” he says. “Those are health and safety qualifications that are recognised globally… I have a Level 3 'Managing Safety' IOSH qualification, which opened my eyes to the risk assessment processes and safety aspects of this kind of work.
“It meant I could get involved in writing safe systems of work risk assessments and making a real difference in that side of our business. Of course now, as ETM, I'm heavily involved in that, reviewing all of the risk assessments for the Bicester site."
All that said, the prime influence on Rob’s engineering career has been Rob himself: “I'm the kind of person that doesn't just do the job and only the job,” he states. “I try to go a little bit further; give a little bit extra. I have come across people who expect to get a promotion based on time served, not necessarily on performance. That’s not my way. I wouldn't apply for a job unless I was confident I could step into the job and do it comfortably.
“I have always tended to take on extra responsibilities; volunteering for a lot of different work for my managers. I took pride in being an engineer - coming up with improvements to make the equipment better. I wasn't just clocking in, doing my job, and going home. I've never been that kind of person.
“Ocado Technology is a growing business, full of opportunities. We promote internally as much as possible, as long as people have the right skillset and the right attitude. It's important to build good relationships both within teams and externally, across the company. And you must be willing to go the extra mile.”
Change your world with us
Our technical operations teams maintain and support our smart warehouses, our robotics, and our mechanical handling systems around the globe. If you have experience and qualifications in electrical and mechanical engineering operations, find your next job here.