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Material Handler Career Guide

Do you work well with machinery and enjoy being part of a busy team in a fast-paced environment? If so, a job as a material handler may be a good fit for you. 

Material handlers move products in warehouse and manufacturing facilities, either manually or with equipment like forklifts or trucks. They’re typically responsible for moving inventory and other materials to fill orders before shipment. Material handlers must have strength and stamina, as they’re often on their feet for long periods loading and unloading heavy items.

Sample job description

[Your Company Name] would not be where it is today without the labor of hardworking and organizationally minded material handlers. In order for our warehouses and production facilities to run smoothly and efficiently, it is imperative that we employ material handlers who can locate, wrap, and convey our products in a speedy and responsible manner. The importance of this work to our day-to-day operations cannot be understated, and therefore we are only interested in applicants who appreciate the gravity of their daily tasks. Fragile products must be handled with care, whereas heavy products must be handled with caution. If you have a well-developed work ethic, a knack for organization, and thrive in fast-paced environments, you might have what it takes to excel as a material handler at [Your Company Name].

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Load and unload incoming and outgoing materials and products
  • Move materials to and from loading docks, delivery trucks, storage, and manufacturing areas
  • Identify and label materials, and record their locations on warehouse shelves to maintain inventory
  • Prepare products for shipment by identifying their location, then pulling, packing, and loading them
  • Operate trucks, forklifts, cranes, and other equipment to move freight
  • Perform and report cycle counts
  • Comply with all warehouse safety rules and guidelines

Education and experience

This position requires a high school diploma or equivalent. Material handlers need to be certified, preferably with on-the-job experience. If possible, candidates should have experience working in a warehouse setting or in logistics, and be able to operate material handling equipment. 

Required skills and qualifications

  • Ability to work well with a team
  • Knowledge of logistical supply chain methods and procedures
  • Proficiency in inventory control
  • Ability to read and understand delivery orders, and work with minimal guidance
  • Ability to operate computers and relevant warehouse management computer software
  • Follow safe work practices and procedures

Preferred qualifications

  • Ability to operate an industrial powered lift truck or forklift according to company procedures and governmental regulations
  • Desire to work in a fast-paced, organized, and positive warehouse environment
  • Ability to frequently lift, push, and slide packages that typically weigh up to 50 lbs, and may weigh up to 70 lbs

Average salary and compensation

The average salary for a material handler is 30,000 in the United States. Position salary will vary based on experience, education, company size, industry, and market.

LocationSalary LowSalary High
Phoenix, Arizona$29,850$40,350
Los Angeles, California$33,650$45,550
Denver, Colorado$28,050$37,950
Washington, DC$34,150$46,250
Miami, Florida$27,950$37,800
Orlando, Florida$25,750$34,850
Tampa, Florida$26,000$35,200
Atlanta, Georgia$27,300$36,900
Chicago, Illinois$31,350$42,450
Boston, Massachusetts$33,900$45,900
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota$27,050$36,600
New York City, New York$35,700$48,300
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania$29,050$39,350
Dallas, Texas$28,300$38,300
Houston, Texas$28,050$37,950
Seattle, Washington$32,650$44,150
National Average$25,500$34,500

Typical work environment

Our material handlers operate within warehouses and production facilities that are lined with shelves containing various products awaiting their turn to be sorted, processed, and delivered. Each individual product must be accounted for and handled professionally in order to maintain the orderliness of our operation. A material handler’s duties include, but are not limited to, monitoring inventory, fulfilling customer orders by transitioning products from shelves to delivery trucks, and accurately documenting the entire process by filling out the requisite forms in accordance with company policy. 

Typical hours

The typical work hours for a material handler can be from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday in a warehouse, construction, or industrial setting. With materials often shipping around the clock, overtime hours aren’t uncommon, depending upon the employer. 

Available certifications

In order to assure us of your commitment to our professional standards, and to distinguish yourself from other, less qualified applicants, please consider satisfying the requirements for some or all of the following certifications:

  • OSHA Safety Certificate. OSHA is very important in the warehouse, which is why many employers will demand that you have this certification. You will have to complete a 40-hour program covering safety standards that the construction industry and various other industries are expected to adhere to. This program will also train you to recognize a variety of potential health issues and safety hazards that OSHA regulations are designed to offset. In addition to the 40-hour program, more than two years of education or training after high school and more than two years of work experience are also required.
  • EPA Amusement Operators Safety Certification. To receive this certification, you have to go through the program that focuses on the safe and proper utilization of equipment and machinery. Many employers like this because this certification means that you are less likely to get into any accidents at work. You’ll also need to complete an exam to receive this certification.

Career path

 The career path for a material handler starts by obtaining a high school diploma or equivalent, as well as earning forklift operator certification. Often, new material handlers might begin with an entry-level position but can receive promotions over time with experience. 

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 53-7064

2020 Employment599,700
Projected Employment in 2030600,600
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 0% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift900 increase

With automation affecting almost every industry in some way, it’s reasonable to expect that it also will impact material handler functions to a degree. Many material handler tasks can only be done by a person, however. 

Sample interview questions

  • Are you comfortable lifting heavy loads and handling fragile objects?
  • Is your personal living space typically messy, or do you tend to keep it clean and orderly?
  • Can you maintain a positive attitude in the face of physical labor and tight time frames?
  • Do deadlines and quotas intimidate you, or do they motivate you?
  • If a package were to go missing on your watch, how would you react to that crisis?
  • How well do you handle supervisor feedback on your performance?
  • Can you name a time at a previous job when you modified your behavior in order to better satisfy a client and/or employer?
  • Have you ever ordered a product online or through the mail? 
  • What qualities did you look for, as a customer, during that transaction? 
  • As a material handler, what can you do to assure that the same standard will always be met?