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Moving Industry Careers, Jobs and Employment Opportunities

Moving Industry Career and Job Highlights

  • A large work force and high turnover rates create numerous job openings in this industry.
  • Jobs in this industry generally require little or no work experience and training.
  • This industry’s already low wages are further affected by the seasonality of the work.

Mover Career Information and Job Description

Workers in the material moving industry work as either operators or laborers. Operators operate machinery that moves heavy materials, such as earth, construction materials and petroleum products. In general, operators move materials within a small area, such as a factory, warehouse or construction site. Some operators load and unload materials from ships and trucks. Operators move levers, foot pedals, switches or dials to control their equipment. Operators may also be involved with equipment set-up, inspection, adjustment and any necessary minor repairs. Laborers and hand material movers perform manual duties such as loading and unloading equipment; cleaning machinery, vehicles and other equipment; packaging products; and physically handling stock, freight and other materials.

Within the material moving industry, workers are classified according to the materials they handle or the type of equipment they operate. Different skills are required to handle different loads and to operate different types of equipment.

Workers that operate material-moving tractors and industrial trucks around construction sites, storage yards, warehouses or factories are called industrial truck and tractor operators. A standard industrial truck uses large forks and a hydraulic lifting mechanism to move materials; these trucks are frequently called forklifts or lift trucks. Other vehicles driven by industrial truck and tractor operators include trailer-pulling tractors that move materials around outdoor storage areas and in factories and warehouses.

Excavating machine operators, loading machine operators and dragline operators control shovel- or bucket-equipped machinery that dig and load earth, gravel, sand and similar materials onto conveyors or into trucks. Most of these operators work for construction or mining companies. Dredge operators remove gravel, sand and other materials from rivers, lakes and streams in order to create or maintain navigable waterway channels. Underground mining loading machine operators use underground machines to load coal, rock or ore onto conveyers or into mine cars and shuttles. Examples of these machines include hoisting engines equipped with cable drawn scoops or scrapers, power shovels and other machines equipped with conveyors and gathering arms.

Workers that operate mechanical boom, cable or tower-and-cable equipment to lift and move heavy objects are called crane and tower operators. These operators raise and lower a hook attached to a loadline by extending and retracting a horizontally mounted boom. Operators generally respond to radio or hand-signal instructions when maneuvering their machine. Onboard or remote, on-site consoles tell operators where to position loads. Although construction site crane and tower operators are the most visible to the public eye, a much larger proportion of operators work for manufacturing industries (metal, automotive, etc.) that move heavy materials. Hoist and winch operators move materials and workers by operating platforms, cables and cages for industrial operations, such as manufacturing, logging and construction companies. Hoist and winch operators may operate derricks and hydraulic booms.

Pump operators and their assistants use power-driven manifold systems and pumps to convey oil, gases and other materials to equipment, such as vessels or vehicles. Production supervisors and petroleum engineers establish a material-movement schedule with which pump operators must coordinate their machines. Compressor and gas pumping station operators control gas, steam, internal-combustion and electric-motor compressors to compress, recover and transmit natural gas, butane, hydrogen, nitrogen and other gases. Wellhead pumpers operate power pumps and other equipment to create gas or oil flow in oilfield wells.
Car, tank, ship and truck loaders operate equipment—such as hoists, conveyers and other machinery—for loading and unloading vessels and vehicles. These workers may test shipping tanks for leaks and other problems. Conveyor operators and tenders operate or monitor conveyor systems that transport materials to or from vehicles, processing stations, departments or stockpiles. Shuttle car operators work in underground mines, operating shuttle cars that move materials to and from mine cars, working areas and conveyor systems.

Workers who perform general, unskilled labor—such as manually moving materials—are called stock movers, hand freight movers, material movers or simply laborers. These workers manually move stock, freight and other materials to and from loading docks, containers, production areas, storage areas, ships and delivery vehicles. Different industries and work settings dictate the particular duties of general laborers. In the transportation industry, for example, airports and shipping companies employ cargo and baggage handlers, and trucking firms frequently employ truck loaders and unloaders. Factory laborers move and organize goods according to their employers’ instructions.

Workers who manually wrap, pack and package materials are called hand packers and packagers. In addition to packing items, these workers may perform such tasks as labeling cartons, inspecting products for defects, keeping record of packed items, stacking packages on loading docks and stamping products with information. Included in this group of workers are grocery clerks and order fillers, who pack to-be-shipped materials. In addition to bagging groceries, grocery clerks may also help customers carry packages and retrieve shopping carts from parking lots.

Machine feeders and machine offbearers remove materials from and feed materials into machines operated and monitored by other workers. Vehicle and equipment cleaners use water, chemical cleaning agents, hoses, vacuums, cloths, brushes and other cleaning equipment to clean vehicles, pipeline, storage tanks, machinery and other equipment. Refuse and recyclable material collectors follow a regularly scheduled truck route, retrieving garbage, trash and other recyclables from homes and businesses and transporting it to landfills, dumps and recycling centers. These workers lift and empty garbage cans and recycling bins into their truck manually or with the aid hydraulic lifts.

Employment Opportunities

In 2002, material movers held 4.9 million jobs. The following chart details the specific fields in which they worked:

  • General laborers and manual freight, stock, and material movers – 2,231,000
  • Hand packers and packagers – 920,000
  • Industrial truck and tractor operators – 594,000
  • Vehicle and equipment cleaners – 344,000
  • Machine feeders and offbearers – 164,000
  • First-line supervisors/managers of helpers, laborers, and manual material movers – 147,000
  • Refuse and recyclable material collectors – 134,000
  • Excavating/loading machine and dragline operators – 80,000
  • Conveyor operators and tenders – 58,000
  • Crane and tower operators – 50,000
  • Car, tank, ship and truck loaders – 17,000
  • Pump operators, except wellhead pumpers – 13,000
  • Wellhead pumpers – 11,000
  • Hoist and winch operators – 9,000
  • Gas compressor and gas pumping station operators – 7,300
  • Underground mining loading machine operators – 4,000
  • Dredge operators – 3,500
  • Shuttle car operators – 3,200
  • All other material moving workers – 78,000

In 2002, the wholesale and retail trade industries employed approximately 29 percent of all material movers. Manufacturing industries employed about 23 percent, and transportation and warehousing industries employed around 14 percent. Construction and mining companies also employed many material movers. Approximately 13 percent of material movers worked on a temporary contract basis within the employment services industry. Companies in need of temporary material moving services hire these workers through an employment help agency. In 2002, a small percent of material movers were self-employed.
Material movers work throughout the nation, and frequently in remote areas, such as in factories and mines and on highways and dams.

Moving Industry Training and Job Qualifications

The majority of material moving jobs do not require much training or work experience. In some cases, employers favor high school graduates when hiring new workers, but most only require that applicants be physically capable of performing the work and at least 18 years old. A physical exam may be required for applicants of physically demanding jobs. Background and drug screening tests may also be pre-employment requirements. Because material moving jobs frequently require relatively little training but considerable physical abilities, workers in this industry tend to be younger than those in other occupations.

Most workers learn their job’s necessary skills through actually performing the work under the direction of a supervisor or more experienced worker. But in the case of workers who handle toxic materials, drive industrial trucks or use other hazardous equipment, safety awareness and procedures training is required. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) establishes many of the standard training requirements. Employers are generally responsible for providing this training, and for reevaluating each worker once every three years. Employers must report each employee’s completion of these training requirements.

Material movers that operate equipment and machinery benefit from good hand-foot-eye coordination, a good sense of balance and the ability to accurately judge distances. Individuals that work closely with the public—grocery clerks, for example—should be courteous and agreeable. Material movers should possess sufficient reading and math skills to be able to understand procedure manuals, bill statements and other documents. Workers that perform minor equipment maintenance benefit from a general mechanical aptitude and some high school training in automotive/diesel mechanics. Persons who have experience with operating large mobile equipment (farm tractors, military vehicles, etc.) are at an advantage. Basic computer and technical knowledge will become more important for material movers as equipment becomes increasingly automated.

Experienced workers in the following occupations may have the opportunity to train new employees: motor vehicle operators; vehicle and equipment installers and repairers; production and assembly workers; and construction workers. Many occupations offer experienced material movers the opportunity to advance to higher-skilled and better-paying jobs, including supervisory positions.

Job and Employment Opportunities

The large work force and high turnover rates characteristic of this and other less-skilled occupations create numerous job openings. New job openings are constantly created with the need to replace workers that leave the work force for different jobs, retirement or other reasons.

Through 2012, material moving employment is expected to experience growth slower than the average for all occupations. The nation’s expanding economy and growing infrastructure (new highways, bridges, etc.) will continue to create new material mover jobs, but improvements in equipment efficiency through technological innovation will have a dampening effect on employment growth.

Employment growth for material movers varies according to specific industries, equipment types and material types. For instance, workers who operate manufacturing equipment will see less growth because of increases in machine productivity through automation. Conversely, workers who perform contract work through temporary help agencies should see more employment growth as firms continue to require their labor. Workers in storage and warehousing positions should also see increased employment growth as an increasing number of companies hire specialized firms to manage and perform their warehouse needs.
Manufacturing and construction jobs are more prone to fluctuate with the national economy. Despite some job depletion due to increasingly automated equipment, new jobs will continue to be created in the areas of material moving equipment maintenance and operation.

Historical Earnings Information

The following chart indicates the median hourly wages for material moving workers in 2002:

  • Gas pumping station and gas compressor operators – $20.44
  • First-line supervisors/managers of laborers, helpers and manual material movers – $17.87
  • Pump operators, except wellhead pumpers – $17.53
  • Crane and tower operators – $17.47
  • Wellhead pumpers – $16.24
  • Car, tank, ship and truck loaders – $15.63
  • Excavating/loading machine and dragline operators – $15.58
  • Hoist and winch operators – $15.09
  • Industrial truck and tractor operators – $12.54
  • Conveyor operators and tenders – $11.66
  • Refuse and recyclable material collectors – $11.60
  • Machine feeders and offbearers – $10.50
  • General laborers and manual freight, stock, and material movers – $9.48
  • Vehicles and equipment cleaners – $8.20
  • Hand packers and packagers – $8.03
  • All other material moving workers – $12.58

Specific employee wages tend to vary according to job responsibilities and experience, and earnings may be affected by the seasonal nature of the work. Metropolitan workers generally receive higher pay.