Hand laborers and material movers manually move freight, stock, or other materials. Some of these workers feed or remove material to or from machines, clean vehicles, pick up unwanted household goods, and pack materials for moving.

Duties

Hand laborers and material movers typically do the following:

  • Manually move material from one place to another
  • Pack or wrap products by hand
  • Keep a record of the material they move
  • Signal machine operators to help move material
  • Clean cars, equipment, and workplaces

In warehouses and in wholesale and retail operations, hand laborers and material movers work closely with material moving machine operators and material recording clerks. Some workers are employed in manufacturing industries, loading material onto conveyor belts or other machines.

The following are examples of types of hand laborers and material movers: 

Cleaners of vehicles and equipment wash automobiles and other vehicles, as well as storage tanks, pipelines, and related machinery. They use cleaning products, vacuums, hoses, and brushes. Most of these workers clean cars at a carwash, an automobile dealership, or a rental agency. Some clean industrial equipment at manufacturing firms. Some—for example, those who work at a carwash, also known as carwash attendants—interact with customers.

Hand laborers and freight, stock, and material movers move materials to and from storage and production areas, loading docks, delivery trucks, ships, and containers. Although their specific duties may vary, most of these movers, often called pickers, work in warehouses. Some workers retrieve products from storage and move them to loading areas. Other workers load and unload cargo from a truck. When moving a package, pickers keep track of the package number, sometimes with a hand-held scanner, to ensure proper delivery. Sometimes they open containers and sort the material.

Hand packers and packagers package a variety of materials by hand. They may label cartons, inspect items for defects, and keep records of items packed. Some of these workers pack materials for shipment and move them to a loading dock. Hand packers in grocery stores, also known as grocery baggers, bag groceries for customers at checkout.

Machine feeders and offbearers process materials by feeding them into equipment or by removing them from equipment. The equipment is generally operated by other workers, such as material moving machine operators. Machine feeders and offbearers help the operator if the machine becomes jammed or needs minor repairs. Machine feeders also track the amount of material they process during a shift.

Refuse and recyclable material collectors gather garbage and recyclables from homes and businesses to transport to a dump, landfill, or recycling center. Many collectors lift garbage cans by hand and empty them into their truck. Some collectors drive the garbage or recycling truck along a scheduled route and may use a hydraulic lift to empty the contents of a dumpster into the truck.

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Work Environment

Hand laborers and material movers held about 4.2 million jobs in 2018. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up hand laborers and material movers was distributed as follows:

Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand                                                2,953,800
Packers and packagers, hand 673,400
Cleaners of vehicles and equipment 408,500
Refuse and recyclable material collectors 133,000
Machine feeders and offbearers 66,200

The largest employers of hand laborers and material movers were as follows:

Transportation and warehousing 23%
Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services                                           22
Manufacturing 13
Wholesale trade 13

Hand laborers and material movers lift and carry heavy objects, and their work is usually repetitive and physically demanding. They bend, kneel, crouch, or crawl in awkward positions.

Injuries and Illnesses

Hand laborers and freight, stock, and material movers and refuse and recyclable material collectors have some of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Moving heavy objects around warehouses or onto trucks, or bending while cleaning a vehicle, may lead to sprains, strains, or overexertion.

Work Schedules

Most hand laborers and freight, stock, and material movers work full time.

Shifts longer than 8 hours are common, and sometimes overtime is available. Because materials are shipped around the clock, some workers, especially those in warehousing, work overnight shifts.

Education and Training

There are usually no formal educational requirements for anyone to become a hand laborer or material mover. Employers typically require only that applicants be physically able to perform the work.

Education

There are no formal educational requirements for anyone to become a hand laborer or material mover.

Training

Most positions for hand laborers and material movers require less than 1 month of on-the-job training. Some workers need only a few days of training, and most training is done by a supervisor or a more experienced worker who decides when trainees are ready to work on their own.

Workers learn safety rules as part of their training. Many of these rules are standardized through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Refuse and recyclable material collectors who drive trucks that exceed a certain capacity—such as vehicles with the combined weight of the vehicle, passengers, and cargo exceeding 26,000 pounds—must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Obtaining a CDL requires passing written, skill, and vision tests.

Personality and Interests

Hand laborers and material movers typically have an interest in the Building interest area, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building interest which might fit with a career as a hand laborer and material mover, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Hand laborers and material movers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Customer-service skills. Laborers and material handlers who work with the public, such as grocery baggers or carwash attendants, must be pleasant and courteous to customers.

Hand-eye coordination. Most laborers and material handlers have to be able to use their arms and hands to manipulate objects or move objects into specific positions.

Listening skills. Laborers and material movers often need to follow instructions that a supervisor gives them.

Physical strength. Some workers must be able to lift heavy objects throughout the day.

Pay

The median annual wage for hand laborers and material movers was $28,710 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,800, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $46,050.

Median annual wages for hand laborers and material movers in May 2019 were as follows:

Refuse and recyclable material collectors $37,840
Machine feeders and offbearers 31,180
Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand                                              29,510
Packers and packagers, hand 25,910
Cleaners of vehicles and equipment 25,800

In May 2019, the median annual wages for hand laborers and material movers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Wholesale trade $31,060
Manufacturing 30,610
Transportation and warehousing 30,300
Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services                                        26,480

Some hand laborers and material movers, such as grocery baggers or carwash attendants, may receive tips.

Most hand laborers and freight, stock, and material movers work full time.

Shifts longer than 8 hours are common, and sometimes overtime is available. Because materials are shipped around the clock, some workers, especially those in warehousing, work overnight shifts.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of hand laborers and material movers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Projected employment changes will vary by occupation.

Employment of hand laborers and freight, stock, and material movers—about two-thirds of all the workers in this profile—is projected to grow 5 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Although some warehouses are installing equipment such as high-speed conveyors and sorting systems to increase efficiency, these workers will still be needed to move materials in nearly all sectors of the economy.

Employment of hand packers and packagers is projected to decline 3 percent from 2018 to 2028. Grocery stores, which employ many hand packers and packagers, may employ fewer baggers as a growing number of stores have self-checkouts where customers or existing cashiers bag groceries themselves. Automation is becoming more viable in warehouses and, if it expands, will reduce the need for workers there.

Employment of refuse and recyclable material collectors is projected to grow 8 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations. Trash collection activity should be expected to increase as the population grows, and collectors will be needed to remove trash.

Employment of cleaners of vehicles and equipment is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for automotive repair and maintenance services, as well as a growing automobile dealers industry, is expected to contribute to employment growth of cleaners of vehicles and equipment.

Employment of machine feeders and offbearers is projected to show little or no change from 2018 to 2028. Many of these workers are employed in manufacturing industries, in which functions are being automated, so employment is expected to remain unchanged.

Job Prospects

Job prospects for hand laborers and material movers are expected to be good. The need to replace workers who leave these occupations should create a large number of job openings.

For More Information

For more information about hand laborers and material movers, visit

MHI

Warehousing Education and Research Council

 

FAQ

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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