Published On: November 30th, 2023Categories: Career Advice, Manufacturing Industry

Are you considering a career move or seeking a stable and promising job opportunity?

Look no further than material handling.

A material handler helps a company’s warehouse operations run smoothly by moving various products and goods. This sector is on a strong and steady rise with projections indicating that the Material Handling Equipment Market could reach over $408 billion by 2033. That means more job opportunities and job security for you. 

Whether you’re new to the workforce, considering a career pivot, or looking to reenter the job market, the world of material handling offers numerous opportunities.

Here, we’ll guide you through understanding what’s expected as a material handler, the skills you’ll need, and how to successfully break into this ever-expanding job market.

The Ins and Outs of Material Handling Jobs

What does a material handler do?

If you like staying active and making things happen behind the scenes, a material handling job could be a great fit for you. 

As a material handler, you’re the muscle that keeps warehouses and factories strong and steady. Your day-to-day work involves loading and unloading products from trucks, organizing items in the warehouse, and making sure everything’s where it needs to be. Think of yourself as a key player in a big, busy puzzle, where every piece (or box) you move helps complete the picture.

You might be operating forklifts or hand trucks, or sometimes just rolling up your sleeves and lifting items with your brute strength (and the proper posture and safety gear, of course). But beyond physical strength, you also need a sharp eye for details. You’ll keep track of inventory, make sure that what’s on the shelf matches what’s on “paper,” and handle shipping administration.

Where do material handlers work?

Whether you’re in a busy warehouse or a bustling factory, material handling is all about keeping things moving.

The tasks might be pretty similar across different industries, but the products you’re handling will vary based on each organization’s product line. Some days you might be sorting and moving everyday consumer goods, while others could involve dealing with heavier, more industrial materials.

A big part of the job often involves unloading goods from trucks and making sure the shelves in the warehouse are well-stocked and ready for order fulfillment. But it’s not just about moving things from point A to point B. In many warehouses and factories, a material handler’s job is key to keeping everything inside running smoothly and moving products around internally. Regardless, you’re the one who’s at the heart of the action making sure everything’s where it needs to be and goes where it needs to go. 

Here are a few job sites where your skills would be in demand:

  • E-commerce and Retail Warehouses: About 20% of all retail sales happen online compared to 80% in physical stores—but with 52% of Gen Z preferring to shop online, e-commerce will dominate. With this growing consumer preference, e-commerce and retail warehouses need folks like you to keep their operation running efficiently. 
  • Manufacturing Plants: If you like seeing how things are made, you’ll fit right in at a manufacturing plant. Here, material handlers work with all the parts and pieces that make up all sorts of products people need and use daily—from cars and commercial aircraft, to chemicals, computers, and more.
    Bonus: Witnessing a production workflow from start to finish is incredibly rewarding and gratifying—not only because it’s just plain cool, but because you can connect your work to the benefit it contributes to people everywhere!
  • Logistics Centers: Within the realm of transportation and logistics, material handlers are responsible for efficiently loading and unloading cargo from trucks and trains—basically, they’re the keepers of a healthy nationwide supply chain.
  • Construction Sites: If you thrive working outdoors, construction material handling may be a perfect match. Material handlers at construction sites keep the crew supplied with the materials and resources they need to maintain project momentum and create a safe and sound end-product.

The Skills and Qualifications You Will Need to Be a Material Handler

A job in material handling can be both challenging and rewarding—challenging because it demands physical stamina, attention to detail, and adaptability in a fast-paced environment, yet rewarding for the sense of accomplishment in keeping essential operations running smoothly and the opportunity for skill development and career growth.

How do people get the necessary qualifications to land a material handling job?

If you’re eyeing an entry-level position in material handling, the good news is that the basic requirements are quite achievable. However, bolstering your qualifications can open doors to even more opportunities and earning potential. Here’s what you should consider:

  1. Education
    Most material handling jobs ask for at least a high school diploma or a GED. To up your chances, you might want to consider taking math or business management classes at your local community college or online. These subjects are particularly helpful to the functions of the job requiring record-keeping and stock management.
  2. Training
    Expect on-the-job training when you start in an entry-level role. This typically covers safety protocols, equipment operation, and learning your employer’s systems and organizational procedures. Accurate inventory tracking is a core function in this role, so companies often invest in training new hires extensively on inventory systems. This ensures you’re adept at quantifying and locating the materials you handle.
  3. Certifications
    Enhancing your qualifications with certifications can be a game-changer. For instance, a forklift operation certification or specialty driver’s licenses significantly boosts your employability. If you’re operating forklifts, OSHA mandates initial certification and renewals every three years. Some roles might also require a commercial driver’s license (CDL), especially if you’re handling hazardous materials.

By meeting these educational and training benchmarks, you position yourself as a well-rounded candidate who’s ready to take on the challenges and rewards of a career in material handling.

Outside of formal training, there are six essential skills material handlers must have.

As a material handler, you can expect to perform manual and administrative duties related to shipping, inspecting, storing, issuing and delivery. Here are some examples:

  1. Minimum physical requirements
    Material handling is a physically demanding job. It often involves lifting and transporting heavy items. Maintaining physical fitness with regular exercise and practicing proper lifting techniques and safety procedures is crucial for efficiency and injury prevention.
  2. Attention to detail
    Whether it’s checking shipment labels, recording inventory, or organizing warehouse space, all material handling jobs require a keen attention to detail to complete tasks correctly and reduce the chance of errors.
  3. Basic math skills
    Having a strong proficiency in math can help you keep stock records and manage inventories. Basic math functions, counting and knowledge of measurements can help you and your team stay organized and promote productivity. A good memory for numbers is also helpful.
  4. Time management
    In material handling, efficiently managing time is crucial for meeting quotas. This begins with a thorough understanding of your warehouse’s layout. If you have a deadline to move a product to a delivery truck, knowing its location in the warehouse off the top of your head will allow you to plan your route and schedule efficiently to stick to tight timelines and optimal productivity.
  5. Safety management
    Having an intimate knowledge of safety procedures and regulations is nonnegotiable in a role that requires operating machinery like forklifts and handling hazardous materials. Bear in mind that having safety management skills can make all the difference in maintaining a safe work environment for everyone, including your coworkers.
  6. Communication skills
    A successful material handler can clearly communicate with their team, their supervisor, and clients as needed, both in-person and written formats. Being able to accurately interpret and relay information is vital to the operation. It’s also important to be able to comprehend, retain, follow and share detailed instructions.

If you’re still developing these skills, don’t worry—many of them can be built with on-the-job experience. That said, you can also be proactive. Participate in training programs like the ones mentioned above, seek mentorship opportunities, and practice active listening and problem-solving in your daily life. Getting as many reps under your belt as possible will set you up for long-term success in the field. 

Make Your Move Into Material Handling Like a Pro

Advancing or breaking into your career as a material handler requires a strong resume that can help warehouse and facility managers notice you over other candidates. As each job description includes unique qualifications, matching your resume to these can help show why you’re the best fit for them. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get noticed in your job search.

Step 1: Find the right material handling job opportunities.

When you’re ready to dive into the world of material handling, the first step is to scout for job opportunities that align with your skills and career aspirations. Begin your search by checking out job boards, company websites, and staffing firms like LSI Staffing. Don’t overlook the power of networking, either—word-of-mouth can lead to promising leads. Focus on roles that match your experience level, whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out.

Step 2: Create a clear and compelling resume and work your network.

Your resume is your ticket to getting noticed.

Start by highlighting relevant experience and skills that align with material handling roles. If you’ve had previous roles in warehousing, manufacturing, or logistics, be sure to detail them. Include any certifications, like forklift operation, that you have. Tailor your resume for each job application, focusing on the specific requirements mentioned in the job description.

Remember, clarity and conciseness are key. Managers appreciate resumes that are easy to read and get straight to the point.

Along with the power move of a killer resume is a great referral from a friend or former colleague who works at a company you’d like to explore. Referred candidates are several times more likely to land the job than those who apply from a job board. So, think about your network and if you’d like to join the ranks of a company they already know and are happy working for.

Step 3: Ace the interview.

Once your resume lands you an interview, it’s time to impress in person.

Do some research about the company beforehand and be prepared to discuss how your skills and experience make you a perfect fit for the job. Be ready to share specific examples of your work experience. For a material handling role, employers often look for candidates who are not just capable but also reliable, attentive, and safety conscious. Show your genuine enthusiasm for the role, ask insightful questions, and be clear about your ability to handle the demands of the job.

Make LSI Staffing Your Partner in the Job Hunt

Navigating the job market can be challenging, but you don’t have to do it alone. LSI Staffing specializes in connecting jobseekers like you with the right opportunities in material handling. We understand the industry and can provide personalized support to help you find a job that suits your skills and career goals.

Take the first step towards your new career in material handling. Reach out now and let us help you find the perfect job opportunity.