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What Hand Laborers and Material Movers Do About this section

Laborers and material movers
Some vehicle and equipment cleaners wash cars.

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.

Stockers and order fillers receive, unpack, and track merchandise. Stock clerks move products from a warehouse to store shelves. They keep a record of items that enter or leave the stockroom and inspect for damaged goods. These clerks also use handheld radio frequency identification (RFID) scanners to keep track of merchandise. Order fillers retrieve customer orders and prepare them to be shipped.

Work Environment About this section

Laborers and material movers
Refuse and recyclable material collectors lift heavy garbage containers.

Hand laborers and material movers held about 6.5 million jobs in 2021. 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 2,806,500
Stockers and order fillers 2,472,700
Packers and packagers, hand 602,300
Cleaners of vehicles and equipment 391,700
Refuse and recyclable material collectors 138,700
Machine feeders and offbearers 61,200

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

Transportation and warehousing 21%
Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services 15
Wholesale trade 11
Manufacturing 10

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.

How to Become a Hand Laborer or Material Mover About this section

Laborers and material movers
Hand laborers and material movers learn on the job.

There are usually no formal educational requirements 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 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.

Important Qualities

Customer-service skills. Hand laborers and material movers who work with the public, such as grocery baggers or carwash 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 hand laborers and material movers must be able to lift and carry heavy objects.

Pay About this section

Hand Laborers and Material Movers

Median annual wages, May 2021

Total, all occupations

$45,760

Material moving workers

$31,010

Hand laborers and material movers

$30,320

 

The median annual wage for hand laborers and material movers was $30,320 in May 2021. 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 $23,560, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $46,930.

Median annual wages for hand laborers and material movers in May 2021 were as follows:

Refuse and recyclable material collectors $38,500
Machine feeders and offbearers 37,010
Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand 31,230
Stockers and order fillers 30,110
Packers and packagers, hand 29,940
Cleaners of vehicles and equipment 29,280

In May 2021, the median annual wages for hand laborers and material movers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Transportation and warehousing $36,590
Wholesale trade 36,050
Manufacturing 35,990
Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services 29,920

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 About this section

Hand Laborers and Material Movers

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Material moving workers

6%

Hand laborers and material movers

6%

Total, all occupations

5%

 

Overall employment of hand laborers and material movers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 1,056,000 openings for hand laborers and material movers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Projected employment of hand laborers and material movers varies by occupation (see table).

Some warehouses have installed equipment, such as high-speed conveyors and sorting systems, to increase efficiency. However, hand laborers and freight, stock, and material movers will still be needed to move materials in many sectors of the economy. Machine feeders and offbearers will be needed to supply materials into or remove materials from equipment that is automated or tended by other workers.

The continued growth in e-commerce will create an increased demand for packaging activities, supporting the demand for stockers and order fillers to prepare orders for pickup or delivery. In addition, some stores may require more workers to handle orders for pickup. However, companies are expanding the use of automated storage and retrieval tools, such as scanners and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, in response to rising demand for products. These technologies will increase productivity for some of the manual tasks performed by stockers and order fillers, which may offset fast employment growth.

As the population grows, the amount of trash generated also is expected to increase; consequently, refuse and recyclable material collectors will be needed to remove trash.

Demand for automotive repair and maintenance services is expected to contribute to employment growth of cleaners of vehicles and equipment. 

Grocery stores, which employ many hand packers and packagers, may employ fewer baggers as a growing number of stores have self-checkout stands at which customers or existing cashiers bag groceries themselves. Automation is becoming more viable in warehouses and, if it expands, will limit the need for workers there.

Employment projections data for hand laborers and material movers, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Hand laborers and material movers

6,473,000 6,831,300 6 358,300

Cleaners of vehicles and equipment

53-7061 391,700 414,300 6 22,700 Get data

Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand

53-7062 2,806,500 2,974,800 6 168,400 Get data

Machine feeders and offbearers

53-7063 61,200 65,000 6 3,900 Get data

Packers and packagers, hand

53-7064 602,300 600,300 0 -2,000 Get data

Stockers and order fillers

53-7065 2,472,700 2,630,600 6 157,900 Get data

Refuse and recyclable material collectors

53-7081 138,700 146,200 5 7,500 Get data

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