Hand Laborers and Material Movers

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What Hand Laborers and Material Movers Do[About this section] [To Top]

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

Duties of Hand Laborers and Material Movers

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 who help move material
  • Clean cars, equipment, and workplaces

In warehouses and 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, where they load material onto conveyor belts or other machines.

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 car wash, an automobile dealership, or a rental agency. Some clean industrial equipment at manufacturing firms. Some—for example, those who work at a car wash—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. 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 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 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. When collecting materials from a dumpster, drivers use a hydraulic lift to empty the contents of the dumpster into their truck.

Work Environment for Hand Laborers and Material Movers[About this section] [To Top]

Hand laborers and material movers hold about 3.7 million jobs.

Hand laborers and freight, stock, and material movers hold about 2.4 million jobs. About 18 percent are employed in temporary help services, and about 8 percent work in warehousing and storage.

Hand packers and packagers hold about 695,400 jobs. About 21 percent are employed in grocery stores, and about 18 percent work in temporary help services.

Cleaners of vehicles and equipment hold about 346,900 jobs. About 38 percent are employed in the automotive repair and maintenance industry, and about 22 percent work in the automobile dealers industry.

Refuse and recyclable material collectors hold about 131,500 jobs. About 39 percent are employed in waste collection, and about 34 percent work in local government.

Machine feeders and offbearers hold about 104,200 jobs. About 64 percent are employed in manufacturing, and about 23 percent work in warehousing and storage.

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 both have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. Moving heavy objects around warehouses or onto trucks may lead to sprains, strains, and overexertion.

Hand Laborer and Material Mover Work Schedules

Most hand laborers and material movers work full time. Almost 1 in 4 hand laborers and material movers work part time.

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

How to Become a Hand Laborer or Material Mover[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Hand Laborers and Material Movers near you!

Formal education is not usually required to become a hand laborer or material mover. Employers typically require only that applicants be physically able to perform the work.

Hand Laborer and Material Mover Education

There are no formal education requirements to become a hand laborer or material mover.

Hand Laborer and 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 & 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.

Important Qualities for Hand Laborers and Material Movers

Customer-service skills. Hand laborers and material movers who work with the public, such as grocery baggers or car wash attendants, must be pleasant and courteous to customers.

Hand–eye coordination. Most hand laborers and material movers use their arms and hands to manipulate objects or move objects into specific positions.

Listening skills. Hand laborers and material movers follow instructions that a supervisor gives them.

Physical stamina. Hand laborers and material movers need the endurance to perform strenuous tasks, such as moving or cleaning objects, throughout the day.

Physical strength. Some workers must be able to lift and carry heavy objects.

Hand Laborer and Material Mover Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for hand laborers and material movers was $24,090 in May 2015. 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 $17,980, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $40,720.

Median annual wages for hand laborers and material movers are as follows:

Refuse and recyclable material collectors $33,800
Machine feeders and offbearers 29,440
Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand 25,010
Cleaners of vehicles and equipment 21,310
Packers and packagers, hand 21,010

Some workers, such as grocery baggers or car wash attendants, may receive tips.

Most people in these occupations work full time. Almost 1 in 4 of hand laborers and material movers work part time.

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

Job Outlook for Hand Laborers and Material Movers[About this section] [To Top]

Overall employment of hand laborers and material movers is projected to grow 5 percent through 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Projected employment changes will vary by occupation.

Employment of cleaners of vehicles and equipment is projected to grow 10 percent through 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for automotive repair and maintenance services, as well as a growing automobile dealers industry, are expected to drive employment growth of cleaners of vehicles and equipment.

Employment of refuse and recyclable material collectors is projected to grow 7 percent through 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Trash collection will likely continue to grow as the population grows, and collectors will be needed to remove trash.

Employment of hand laborers and freight, stock, and material movers is projected to grow 5 percent through 2024, 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 grow 2 percent through 2024, slower than the average for all occupations. Grocery stores, which employ many hand packers and packagers, may employ fewer baggers as a growing number of cashiers bag groceries themselves. However, those employed in warehouses are expected to experience some employment gains as the industry grows.

Employment of machine feeders and offbearers is projected to decline 3 percent through 2024. Many of these workers are employed in manufacturing industries, where some functions are automated, requiring fewer of these workers.

Hand Laborers and Material Movers Job Prospects

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

Employment projections data for Hand Laborers and Material Movers, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Hand laborers and material movers 3,719,300 3,894,800 5 175,500
  Cleaners of vehicles and equipment 346,900 380,000 10 33,100
  Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand 2,441,300 2,566,400 5 125,100
  Machine feeders and offbearers 104,200 100,700 -3 -3,500
  Packers and packagers, hand 695,400 706,900 2 11,500
  Refuse and recyclable material collectors 131,500 140,900 7 9,400


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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