Job Facts about Material Handler Jobs

Material handler jobs move goods in a supply chain. These jobs include a range of functions and tasks from warehousing to loading and shipment handling.

The Work Environment

In the freight industry, the working environment varies from warehouses to freight and rail terminals. The “handling” includes manual and machine-assisted movement of goods of all kinds. This involves physically moving a load, usually palettes of goods, on or off freight transport.

This is tough manual work in some cases, depending on the level of equipment available to do these jobs and the types of freight involved. The regular loading and unloading work may often include shipment checks and in some cases related security checks. 

The work carries a physical risk factor, because handling of bulk materials inevitably involves the potential hazard of falling or unbalanced loads. Some of the equipment (like a forklift) is designed to carry heavy weights, and these loads are potentially dangerous if the load shifts. Freight handlers receive clear instructions about occupational health and safety and safe handling procedures on the job. 

The unskilled material handler jobs are nearly all manual labor. But it is actually quite responsible work, because of the possibility of damage to goods in transit, for which the freight company may be held liable.

The skilled material handler jobs are better-paid, and they usually involve licensed work like forklift operation and machine operation (warehouse cranes and so forth). These material handler jobs often also include some degree of administrative work, order checking, inventory and order picking. In some cases drivers operate partly as handlers, loaders and off-loaders. These driving jobs usually require specific classes or licenses for both trucks and machine operation.

Wages for Material Handler Jobs

The U.S. national average is from $16,000 to $37,000, with a median salary of $24,000. Higher wages are paid for licensed workers.


The schedule usually consists of 8-hour shifts and some overtime, variable with work flow. 

The Career Environment

The basic material handler jobs aren’t career jobs as such. They’re the basis of industry experience, from which career opportunities are derived. (For a look at freight careers, check out Fleet Helper, a big U.S. site which specializes in transport industry jobs.)

The industry experience at this level is good for learning the basics of the industry and finding career options in higher-level jobs. The skilled jobs in particular relate to potentially highly paid jobs like crane operation, management and administration roles.

The career context of these material handler jobs varies. Because career preferences and options are usually tied in with experience, a freight handler may progress to any of the other streams from his or her original position. A more structured approach is specific training in areas like business administration, management, logistics or the skilled jobs described above.

The pay levels rise according to your experience and skills, and many people do start in basic material handler jobs and progress up the organizational ladder to better-paying jobs. Some freight handlers progress to running their own freight businesses with the experience they gain in these and related jobs.