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Material Handler Career Guide

What is a material handler?

A material handler works in warehouses or production facilities to move products. This might mean finding materials on the shelves and wrapping them and putting them on a delivery truck or pulling materials off the truck and putting them in proper shelf spots. Their role is to ensure the safe and efficient handling of goods and products to promote smooth operations on the production floor.

Being an integral part of warehouse operations, these professionals enhance operational efficiency by making sure that needed materials are where they must be at all times. This can affect the ease of access of products to customers, the speed of production lines, and, ultimately, the bottom line of the organization.

Duties and responsibilities

Material handlers have the primary responsibility of moving and managing stock within the warehouse or production facility. This includes obtaining merchandise from bins or shelves and packing them securely for shipment. They may also upload materials from delivery trucks and position them appropriately within storage areas. They need to obey all safety guidelines to minimize the risk of accidents and injuries.

In some cases, these professionals are tasked with keeping an inventory of products in the warehouse or production facility. They may track stock quantities electronically, recording which items are present, where they are located, and how many are available. In addition, the handlers often assist in maintaining a clean and organized workspace, removing waste and discarded materials, and ensuring that tools and equipment are stored appropriately.

Work environment

Material handlers operate in various settings, including storage areas, warehouses, and production facilities. The working conditions can vary from very cold (in cold storage areas) to very warm (near production lines). Since the materials they handle can be heavy or bulky, there is a certain amount of physical risk involved. However, safety equipment is often made available, and adherence to safety rules and regulations can lessen the risk of injuries.

Typical work hours

Material handlers typically work full-time hours. In many situations, these professionals work shifts that include nights, weekends, and public holidays. This is especially common in industries with round-the-clock production, like food processing or pharmaceutical manufacturing. However, for companies that operate within regular business hours, their schedules may align accordingly. Overtime work may be required, particularly during busy periods or when meeting tight delivery deadlines.

How to become a material handler

This career guide section outlines becoming a material handler. The main steps include basic education, obtaining relevant certification, and gaining hands-on experience.

Step 1: Complete a high school education or equivalent

As a basic requirement, most employers will require you to have a high school diploma or GED equivalent. This signifies that you have acquired basic math skills, fundamental problem-solving capabilities, and the ability to communicate effectively.

Step 2: Pursue a certificate program (optional)

Though not mandatory, a certificate program in material handling, logistics, or a related field could increase your competitiveness in the job market. Such programs typically cover inventory control, shipping and receiving procedures, warehouse operations, and supply chain management.

Step 3: Gain physical stamina and strength

Physical strength and stamina are necessary for this job, as it requires frequent lifting and moving heavy objects. Regular workouts or physical activities that help build strength and enhance stamina can help prepare for such physical demands.

Step 4: Obtain a forklift license

In many roles, material handlers are required to operate forklifts to move heavy materials and equipment. Obtaining a forklift license through a certified training program enables you to legally operate a forklift and boosts your employability.

Step 5: Start with entry-level positions

Initial practical experience might be gained through entry-level roles within warehouses, factories, or retail establishments. Such positions allow you to understand the working system of material handling and expose you to all aspects of the job.

Step 6: Seek advanced job opportunities

After gaining substantial experience and proving your proficiency, you may aim for advanced positions. These may require added responsibilities like supervising other workers, managing inventory, or working with more specialized equipment.

How much do material handlers make?

Material handler salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. The level of manual dexterity, physical capabilities, and warehousing technology familiarity can particularly influence their pay.

Highest paying industries

  • Natural Gas Distribution – $58,630
  • Postal Service – $57,260
  • Scientific Research and Developmental Services – $52,940
  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals – $51,580
  • Federal Executive Branch – $50,310

Highest paying states

  • Wyoming – $44,650
  • Washington – $42,200
  • Massachusetts – $41,840
  • Alaska – $41,600
  • New Hampshire – $40,940

Browse material handler salary data by market

Types of material handlers

Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for material handlers. This section sheds light on various job categories within this profession and outlines the critical differences between them, providing potential pathways for career advancement.

Warehouse material handler

Those holding this position work in warehousing operations, responsible for receiving, storing, and dispatching goods. They may also be tasked with tracking inventory levels, using technology to log movements, and maintaining a clean and safe environment. Their role is crucial in keeping warehouse operations running smoothly.

Forklift operator

These professionals are an integral part of the handling process as they operate forklifts to transport goods within a warehouse or to loading docks. Safety is paramount due to the machinery involved, so forklift operators are trained extensively in safety protocols. While not exclusively tied to material handling, their role often falls within this career’s purview.

Manufacturing material handler

Working in manufacturing settings, operatives in this role move materials required for the manufacturing process. They ensure production lines have the necessary resources and remove finished goods for storage or dispatch. It requires a broad understanding of the manufacturing process and an eye for detail to prevent production interruptions.

Shipping and receiving handler

This role focuses on materials entering and leaving a facility. Shipping and receiving handlers organize incoming shipments, verify their accuracy against shipping documents, and route them appropriately within the facility. They also prepare outgoing shipments, making sure they are correctly packaged and have the proper documentation.

Inventory specialist

While the primary responsibility of an inventory specialist is to track and record the movement of goods and materials, they also often take on material handling duties. They maintain detailed records to ensure accuracy in the inventory. Data collected by inventory specialists is used for making critical business decisions like budgeting and forecasting.

Top skills for material handlers

This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities that will help you find success as a material handler.

Physical strength and stamina

Success in this role often requires lifting, moving, and handling heavy items daily. This demands good physical fitness, strength, and stamina to perform these tasks without excessive fatigue or risk of injury. Supplementing daily activities with regular exercise can help maintain and improve these physical capabilities.

Attention to detail

Efficiency and accuracy are vital in handling materials. It requires meticulous attention to accurately sort, arrange, and store items. Also, it’s necessary to notice any irregularity or damage in materials and promptly report it.

Technical skills

Whether manually or using machinery, handling materials requires certain technical skills. Understanding how to operate various pieces of equipment, such as forklifts or pallet jacks, is often essential. Additionally, knowledge of inventory software can aid in tracking and organizing materials more effectively.

Organizational skills

Good organizational skills are essential for keeping track of many different products and materials. It involves the ability to arrange items systematically for optimal storage and retrieval, reduce clutter, and maintain an orderly work environment.

Communication skills

Communication is crucial in most work environments, particularly for those in this role. These professionals often must coordinate with team members, report issues, or even instruct others on correct handling procedures. Clear and effective communication helps ensure that everyone is on the same page, reducing the potential for errors.

Material handler career path options

As a material handler, your career path offers several avenues for progression and growth. The role is wide and varied, giving you opportunities to work in industries such as manufacturing, logistics, or distribution. Your next career step may largely depend on the industry and your specific interests.

Career progression

With experience and performance in your role, there are possibilities to grow into positions of higher responsibility. One common promotion would be to shift supervisor or warehouse manager, leading a team and managing daily operations. This would require excellent organizational and leadership skills, as well as a thorough understanding of inventory management and warehousing.

Specialized roles

Depending on your industry, you may also choose to specialize. For example, in the manufacturing sector, you might become a production planner or scheduler, focusing on optimizing the flow of materials to meet production needs. In a logistics company, you might move toward roles in freight and transportation management.

Education and further growth

Further education can also substantially influence your career path. If you have interests in supply chain management or logistics, a relevant degree or certification could lead you to roles such as supply chain analyst, logistician, or even director of logistics. These roles entail strategic planning and demand forecasting, requiring a strong understanding of global business and logistics fundamentals.

This job is continuously evolving due to technological advancements and changes in industry requirements. Automation and robotics have been the key players in shaping this profession. Robots and automated systems have allowed handlers to perform their tasks more efficiently and safely. This has reduced the risk of accidents and injuries, making the work environment safer.

The rise of e-commerce platforms has significantly affected this profession. Online shopping requires fast handling and management of goods, including their storage and transportation. The shift toward online shopping has increased the demand for professionals who can efficiently manage warehouses and inventories. Similarly, the growing importance of sustainability and environmental consciousness has also impacted this field. The role now not only involves management of terminals and warehouses but also proper disposal and recycling of materials.

Employment projections

According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of material handlers is projected to grow 6 percent through 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Material handler career tips

Understand standard operating procedures

As a material handler, you will likely work in environments with strict operating procedures. Understanding and abiding by these is important for both safety and efficiency. Standard operating procedures, often called SOPs, detail how you should carry out specific tasks. These usually range from the operation of machinery to manual handling, loading, and unloading of materials. Deep knowledge of SOPs guarantees that you carry out your job effectively while observing safety regulations.

Master inventory management software

In most settings, these professionals use specialized inventory management software. This kind of software supports tasks such as tracking inventory levels, orders, and deliveries. Proficiency in at least one popular inventory management software system will give you an edge in your career. Regularly engage with online forums or short courses that offer tutorials on these software applications.

Engage in continuous learning

The industry advances quickly with innovations in material handling equipment and software. It’s important to stay updated on these developments to maintain career relevancy. Here are some options for continuous learning:

  • Webinars and courses from leading manufacturers of material handling machines
  • Seminars on the latest inventory management software
  • Workshops or certifications on workplace safety and ergonomics

Build a professional network

Networking is a proven way to grow your career. Besides casual socializing, attending events and joining associations linked to material handling can keep you in the loop about job opportunities and trends in the industry.

  • Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association (MHEDA)
  • American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE)
  • International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses (IARW)

Where the material handler jobs are

Top employers

  • Amazon
  • FedEx
  • UPS
  • DHL
  • Coca-Cola

Top states

  • California
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Monster
  • Simply Hired


What does a typical workday look like for a material handler?

A material handler’s workday usually involves managing inventory. This incorporates receiving goods, stocking shelves, and preparing items for shipment. Depending on the establishment, this role might also require operating equipment like forklifts to move large or heavy items.

What are the physical requirements for material handlers?

Given the nature of the work, it can be physically demanding. It often entails lifting and moving heavy objects, standing or walking for long hours, and performing manual labor. Good physical fitness, agility, and coordination are generally necessary to carry out the tasks efficiently.

Are there any certifications that could benefit a material handler?

While not necessarily required, some certification programs could enhance your skills and professional credibility. For instance, the Certified in Production and Inventory Management (CPIM) by ASCM (Association for Supply Chain Management) is a widely recognized certification in this field.

What skills are advantageous for a material handler?

Practical skills such as good hand-eye coordination and the ability to operate machinery can be beneficial. The capacity to work well in a team, alongside excellent communication capabilities, would also be advantageous. Additionally, problem-solving skills can be useful in identifying and rectifying any issues related to material handling.

How does a material handler interact with other departments?

In their role, material handlers generally work closely with multiple departments, particularly those involved in inventory control, shipping, and receiving. Effective communication with these departments is vital as they provide essential information like stock levels, which aids in executing operations optimally.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a material handler?

The most challenging aspect of the role can vary depending on individual preferences, work environment, and responsibilities. For some, the physically demanding nature of the work can be challenging. Others might find it difficult to adhere to detailed safety regulations, especially when working with dangerous goods or in hazardous areas.

What types of technology are commonly used by a material handler?

In the material handling profession, technology use is usually related to inventory management and performing physical tasks. This could include inventory management systems, barcode scanners, and equipment like forklifts or pallet jacks. Some businesses may also use apps or customized software for tracking shipments.

What is the environment like for a material handler?

Most material handlers work in warehouse or industrial settings. These environments can be fast-paced, requiring efficient handling of goods. Depending on the industry, they could also involve exposure to various weather conditions or potential hazards related to handling specific materials.

What training is needed to become a material handler?

Anyone aiming to build a career as a material handler typically needs a high school diploma or equivalent. Some businesses might offer on-the-job training for newcomers. For roles that require the use of specific equipment, employers might also provide the necessary certification or training programs.

Are there opportunities for advancement for material handlers?

Yes, there are opportunities for advancement in this field. With experience and additional training or courses, material handlers can progress to senior or supervisory roles. Obtaining certifications related to inventory management or operations can also enhance career opportunities.