What does a material handler do?

Material handlers, also called warehouse operators, are responsible for moving and restocking materials in warehouse storage environments. Manufacturing and distribution center employers aim to fill material handler positions with well-organized team players who demonstrate a strong work ethic. Most material handlers are responsible for documenting and reporting inventory levels. 


What is the average salary of a material handler?

As of March 2022, the average material handler salary in the United States is $17.65 per hour and $5,250 in annual earned overtime. Top material handler employers pay as much as $32.40 per hour, while most companies typically offer wages in the neighborhood of $25 per hour. A reasonable starting salary for material handlers begins at around $18 an hour, or $2,880 monthly, for a full-time employee, excluding bonuses and overtime pay. 

Regional differences in pay

As with most occupations, material handler earnings depend upon the worksite location. Both Alaska and Rhode Island pay as much as 25% more than the average U.S. material handler wage. If you are applying to positions in states like California, New York, Louisiana, and Oregon, expect pay rates 15% to 24% higher than the national average. Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida compensate 5% to 14% less than the national average salary for material handler roles. 

Compensation for experienced material handlers

For applicants already experienced in warehousing, companies offer considerably higher wages for material handler II and material handler III positions. These are intermediate to experienced operator roles, and they include many of the same responsibilities as an entry-level material handler. As a material handler II or III, you are more involved in monitoring process flows at the facility and recording valuable information about inventory stock and the movement of materials. Material handler II and III applicants should possess a sound foundational knowledge of standard industry practices and procedures. 

In addition to moving equipment from aircraft, trucks, or trains, intermediate materials handlers preferably display full proficiency in a particular discipline. These candidates typically have one to five years of experience, work well under limited supervision, and have additional specialized training and certifications.


Working as a material handler

The moving and handling of warehouse materials only describe the basic duties of a warehouse operator. The most important task of the materials handler is to track incoming and outgoing products accurately. This process commonly entails the use of automated technology and software to match deliveries with company purchase orders. Material handlers must scan cargo to assigned locations using cargo boards, pallets, and forklifts.

What are the responsibilities of a material handler?

The primary duties of a material handler include moving, handling, inventorying, and storing various non-hazardous and hazardous materials in a warehouse environment. A typical work shift entails loading and unloading items marked for transport while documenting inventory status to ensure all deliveries are consistent with purchase order documents. Enterprise material handlers working for large corporations are assigned to teams and may be required to supervise and direct other workers in a direct capacity. 

Typical day-to-day material handler responsibilities include: 

  • Accurately tracking and verifying the quality and quantity of incoming goods
  • Verifying product labeling and correctly attaching new labels to products   
  • Locating and moving any appropriate products scheduled for delivery
  • Maintain an up-to-date and accurate account of inventory and stock  
  • Process returns and file all associated technical documentation and required communications 
  • Keep all material handling equipment in optimal condition by following regular maintenance
  • Relay purchase requirements to staff while maintaining accurate records on low stock
  • Work with external departments and senior management to locate missing items
  • Reconcile incorrect deliveries and follow the proper replacement procedures for damaged goods

Not all material handler positions, such as those at small electronics manufacturers, require heavying lifting. However, those interested in the role should be physically fit and prepared to lift at least 50 pounds without the assistance of special equipment while spending several hours standing. Apart from good physical fitness, many employers seek candidates experienced with specific tools, proficient at operating machinery like pallet jacks and forklifts, and comfortable using relevant inventory management software. Select warehouse positions involve hazardous material handling and require specific HAZMAT certifications. 

What type of equipment do material handlers use?

As a material handler, you’ll work with several types of light and heavy industrial equipment. Material handling devices assist operators by making their work safer and more efficient. Because most tasks at logistic warehouses entail loading, unloading, and transporting heavyweight cargo, warehouse operators rely heavily upon these machines to perform several core tasks. These tasks include the lifting and transporting of large items, works in progress, and completed products. The most common warehouse material handling equipment includes: 

  • Forklifts - wheeled vehicles with metal arms that lift heavy items, used in most warehouse locations, port facilities, and cargo terminals
  • Carts - manual, rectangle transport devices on rotating wheels
  • Palletizers - machines that automatically load cargo onto pallets
  • Vanning and Devanning Systems - assist in removing cargo from containers via vanning/devanning assistance
  • Automated Guided Vehicle (AGVs) - guided by magnetic tape, these machines transport cargo
  • Overhead Trolleys - transport cargo overhead to picking shelves and delivery areas
  • Conveyance Robots - Unlike AGVs, move independently to deliver goods 
  • Sorters - sort large volumes of cargo while transporting it at the same time 
  • Conveyors - found at many worksites, they transport materials at a constant speed
  • Storage shelves - racks and shelves that organize stored cargo

What is the work environment like for a material handler?

Warehouse equipment and operators are constantly on the move, with hundreds of employees picking and packing alongside forklift operators moving pallets and sophisticated automated machinery. The work environment for a material handler is best suited for the self-disciplined employee who thrives in a busy workplace that emphasizes productivity, accuracy, and, above all, strong teamwork. 

A material handler's physical environment

Warehouses are vast spaces that can be hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Food processing plants usually require a continually refrigerated environment. But companies always provide operators the appropriate protective equipment, including heavy coats, hats, and gloves to guard against the chill. 

While warehouse distribution centers vary by business sector, if there is one thing they all have in common, it is the fast pace required to meet strict picking and shipping targets. As a material handler, you will mostly work in the private sector. 

Who are your colleagues as a material handler?

Material handlers fulfill an essential role in the supply and frequently work alongside many people of different occupations, from aerospace engineers to senior executives of global auto manufacturers and leading food and beverage brands. 

While employers expect operators to work independently throughout most of their shift, they typically report to a warehouse manager who works under an operations manager. You will mostly work alongside other material handlers, machine operators, warehouse associates and equipment operators like forklift drivers.

What is the work schedule of a material handler?

Warehouse facilities operate around the clock. If a plant does not run shifts 24/7, it assuredly starts them very early in the morning and ends them late at night. Upon onboarding with a company, hiring managers typically offer materials handlers a range of shift options depending on their staffing needs and your desired schedule. Material handler positions can be part-time or full-time, and the shifts are staggered throughout the day. The first shift may start as early as 4:00 a.m. and end as early as noon. The second shift starts around midday and finishes around midnight. If the facility is open all night, overnight shifts begin around midnight and end between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m..


What is the career outlook for a material handler?

The career outlook for material handlers and warehouse operators is strong. Most analysts estimate demand for the position to grow by 7% over the next decade, which is on par with the average for all occupations. Nearly 1 million openings for material handlers are projected for each year between 2022 and 2032. Most of these open positions represent vacancies from employees either transferring to new occupations, voluntarily exiting the workforce, or reaching retirement age. 

What are the advantages of working with Spherion as a material handler?

As a Spherion material handler, you will enjoy a flexible workplace with regular weekly pay. And you'll always find a dependable contact person to fall back on if you ever have job-related questions and need to reach out for help. Spherion offers countless training opportunities while hosting a range of open manufacturing and logistics positions in your area. 

Working for Spherion as a material handler entails many advantages that you may not find in other companies. Here are some of them: 

  • Get flexible work hours and the ability to work from home
  • Receive paychecks faster with a weekly payment schedule
  • Get technical support from a company representative to help you resolve any issues or concerns in a timely manner
  • Get access to a myriad of training opportunities to help fast track your career
  • Find a wide range of jobs in your local area

What education do you need as a material handler?

While there are no formal educational requirements for the material handler position, the role typically requires a high school diploma or an equivalent credential such as a General Educational Development (GED) certificate. Evidence of a solid foundational background in mathematics and computer science improves your qualifications significantly because the job entails accurate counting, record keeping, and the use of inventory management software. Relevant certificates and training in hazardous material safety (HAZMAT), forklift operations, and automation software drastically improve your job candidacy and chances for advancement. 

Skills & competencies 

Successful materials handler applicants have strong computer, data entry, and arithmetic skills. Handlers should be comfortable operating warehouse machinery, generating spreadsheet reports, and physically fit enough to move 50-100 pounds without assistance. Hiring managers look for detail-oriented candidates for this role who possess good problem-solving skills and strong leadership potential.



Material handlers work throughout various supply chains and are in-demand manufacturing and distribution positions. We answer frequently asked questions about becoming a material handler below.

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