Hand laborers and material movers transport objects without using machines. Some workers move freight, stock, or other materials around in storage facilities; others clean vehicles; some pick up unwanted household goods; and still others pack materials for moving.
Hand laborers and material movers typically do the following:
- Manually move material from one place to another
- Pack or wrap material by hand
- Keep a record of the material they move
- Use signals, when necessary, to assist machine operators who are moving larger pieces of material
- Ensure a clean and orderly workplace
In warehouses and wholesale and retail operations, hand material movers work closely with material moving machine operators and material recording clerks. Automatic sensors and tags are increasingly being used to track items that allow hand material movers to work faster. Some workers are employed in manufacturing industries in which they load material onto conveyor belts or other machines.
Laborers and hand freight, stock, and material movers move materials to and from storage and production areas, loading docks, delivery trucks, ships, and containers. Most of these movers, often called pickers, work in warehouses, although their specific duties vary. Some workers find products in storage and transport them to the loading area. 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 record items packed. Some of these workers pack materials for shipment and transport them to a loading dock. Others work in retail as gift wrappers. Many hand packers are employed by grocery stores, where they 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 generally is operated by other workers, such as material-moving machine operators. Machine feeders and offbearers might help the operator if the machine becomes jammed or needs minor repairs. Machine feeders track the amount of material they process during a shift.
Cleaners of vehicles and equipment clean 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—may have to interact with customers.
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. When collecting materials from a dumpster, drivers use a hydraulic lift to empty the contents of the dumpster into their truck.
Hand laborers and material movers held about 3.4 million jobs in 2012. They work in a variety of industries.
Laborers and hand, freight, stock, and material movers held about 2.2 million jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most laborers and hand, freight, stock, and material movers in 2012 were as follows:
|Merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods||8|
|Warehousing and storage||8|
|Merchant wholesalers, durable goods||8|
Hand packers and packagers held about 666,900 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most hand packers and packagers in 2012 were as follows:
|Merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods||8|
|Warehousing and storage||7|
Cleaners of vehicles and equipment held about 325,200 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most cleaners of vehicles and equipment in 2012 were as follows:
|Other automotive repair and maintenance||34%|
Refuse and recyclable material collectors held about 133,200 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most refuse and recyclable material collectors in 2012 were as follows:
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||34|
|Waste treatment and disposal and waste management services||11|
Machine feeders and offbearers held about 106,100 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most machine feeders and offbearers in 2012 were as follows:
|Wood product manufacturing||10|
|Plastics and rubber products manufacturing||7|
The work of hand laborers and material movers is usually repetitive and physically demanding. Workers may lift and carry heavy objects. They bend, kneel, crouch, or crawl in awkward positions.
Injuries and Illnesses
Some material-moving jobs can be dangerous. Hand laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, as well as refuse and recyclable material collectors, have some of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. When hand laborers and freight, stock, and material movers move heavy objects around a warehouse or onto trucks, injury-causing accidents can happen. Similarly, because refuse and recyclable material collectors drive so much to complete their rounds, they are vulnerable to traffic accidents. They also lift heavy objects, a practice that can lead to accidents.
Most people in these occupations work full time. Almost a quarter of laborers and hand, freight, stock, and material movers and packers and packagers worked part time in 2012, a somewhat higher percentage than that of many other occupations. In addition, most workers have 8-hour shifts, although longer shifts and overtime are common. Because materials are shipped around the clock, some workers, especially those in warehousing, work overnight shifts.
Generally, hand laborers and material movers need no work experience or minimum level of education. Employers require only that applicants be physically able to do the work.
Some employers may prefer to hire workers who have a high school diploma, although it is generally not required for these jobs.
Most of these positions require less than 1 month of on-the-job training. Some workers need only a few days of training. Certain hand freight, stock, and material movers and refuse and recyclable material collectors have up to 3 months of training. 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). Workers who handle hazardous materials receive additional training.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Refuse and recyclable material collectors who drive a truck that surpasses a certain size have to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Getting a CDL requires passing written, skills, and vision tests.
Many of these workers advance to other jobs. Some become material moving machine operators or material recording clerks; others become construction laborers or production workers. In warehousing or retail, experienced workers can move to other parts of the company, such as sales.
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.
The median annual wage for hand laborers and material movers was $22,970 in May 2012. 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 $17,100, and the top 10 percent earned more than $38,410.
Median wages for hand laborers and material moving occupations in May 2012 were as follows:
- $32,930 for refuse and recyclable material collectors
- $27,120 for machine feeders and offbearers
- $23,890 for laborers and hand freight, stock, and material movers
- $19,910 for hand packers and packagers
- $19,850 for cleaners of vehicles and equipment
Most people in these occupations work full time. Almost a quarter of laborers and hand, freight, stock, and material movers and packers and packagers work part time, a somewhat higher percentage than that of other occupations. In addition, most workers have 8-hour shifts, although longer shifts and overtime are common. Because materials are shipped around the clock, some workers, especially those in warehousing, work overnight shifts.
Overall employment of hand laborers and material movers is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average of all occupations.
Projected employment changes for specific groups of workers within this occupation are as follows:
- Employment of refuse and recyclable material collectors is projected to grow 16 percent from 2012 to 2022. Trash collection will continue to grow as population and income grow, and collectors will be needed to remove trash. An increase in recycling collection is expected to drive the rapid growth of this occupation.
- Employment of cleaners of vehicles and equipment is projected to grow 11 percent from 2012 to 2022. Growth in automobile dealers, an industry in which many of these workers are employed, is expected to drive employment growth of cleaners of vehicles and equipment. However, a decline in the use of full-service carwashes in favor of automatic conveyors may limit job growth somewhat.
- Employment of laborers and hand, freight, stock, and material movers is projected to grow 11 percent from 2012 to 2022. The need for warehouses is expected to grow as consumer spending increases. However, greater automation will increase the efficiency of hand material movers. Most warehouses are installing equipment, such as high-speed conveyors and sorting systems and robotic pickers, that decreases the number of workers needed.
- Employment of hand packers and packagers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022. A decline in the use of baggers in grocery stores, where many hand packers and packagers are employed, is expected to dampen growth in this occupation. The growing number of cashiers who also bag groceries is contributing to the decline in baggers. However, those employed in warehouses are expected to see some employment growth as the industry grows.
- Employment of machine feeders and offbearers is projected to show little or no change from 2012 to 2022. These workers are heavily employed in declining manufacturing industries in which automation is further decreasing the need for them. In addition, other workers who operate the machines are increasingly doing the tasks of machine feeders and offbearers.
Job prospects for hand laborers and material movers are likely to be favorable. The need to replace workers who leave the occupations should create a large number of job openings. As automation increases, the technology used by workers in some of these occupations will become more complex. Employers will likely prefer workers who are comfortable using technology such as tablet computers and hand-held scanners.