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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.

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 4.2 million jobs in 2019. 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 2,986,000
Packers and packagers, hand 640,800
Cleaners of vehicles and equipment 408,400
Refuse and recyclable material collectors 133,600
Machine feeders and offbearers 62,900

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

Transportation and warehousing 23%
Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services 22
Manufacturing 14
Wholesale trade 13

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 for anyone 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 for anyone 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 2019

Total, all occupations

$39,810

Material moving workers

$29,060

Hand laborers and material movers

$28,710

 

The median annual wage for hand laborers and material movers was $28,710 in May 2019. 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 $20,800, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $46,050.

Median annual wages for hand laborers and material movers in May 2019 were as follows:

Refuse and recyclable material collectors $37,840
Machine feeders and offbearers 31,180
Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand 29,510
Packers and packagers, hand 25,910
Cleaners of vehicles and equipment 25,800

In May 2019, the median annual wages for hand laborers and material movers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Wholesale trade $31,060
Manufacturing 30,610
Transportation and warehousing 30,300
Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services 26,480

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 2019-29

Total, all occupations

4%

Hand laborers and material movers

3%

Material moving workers

2%

 

Overall employment of hand laborers and material movers is projected to grow 3 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Projected employment change will vary by occupation (see table below).

Some warehouses are installing equipment, such as high-speed conveyors and sorting systems, to increase efficiency. However, laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand, will still be needed to move materials in nearly all sectors of the economy.

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 reduce the need for workers there.

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, as well as a growing automobile dealers industry, is expected to contribute to employment growth of cleaners of vehicles and equipment.

Many machine feeders and offbearers are employed in manufacturing industries, in which functions are being automated, so employment is expected to remain unchanged.

Job Prospects

Job prospects for hand laborers and material movers are expected to be 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, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Hand laborers and material movers

4,231,600 4,353,000 3 121,300

Cleaners of vehicles and equipment

53-7061 408,400 423,100 4 14,700 Get data

Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand

53-7062 2,986,000 3,111,700 4 125,700 Get data

Machine feeders and offbearers

53-7063 62,900 63,000 0 100 Get data

Packers and packagers, hand

53-7064 640,800 609,900 -5 -30,900 Get data

Refuse and recyclable material collectors

53-7081 133,600 145,400 9 11,700 Get data

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