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What is a Material Handler? Job Description and Career Outlook

Take a look and see what items are around you, or appreciate the device you’re reading this article on. The products themselves and their raw materials were probably made in places all around the world, and each took a different path to get to you. 

That’s all because of material handlers, who play an important role in how warehouses ensure products reach their next destination. 

To learn more about the job, we spoke with Senior Account Manager Joel Bishop who has over six years of experience in helping people find the right job. Bishop answers the question “what is a material handler?” He also explains the ins and outs of becoming a material handler, their job responsibilities and their career outlook.


What is a material handler? 

Material handlers are an important component of the warehousing industry. They are responsible for handling and moving merchandise around the premises. Material handler duties also include managing the shipping and receiving of materials within a facility. 

Nearly every company that exports a physical product employs material handlers. They’re a vital step in getting products — from the latest iPhone to foods to raw materials — into the consumers’ hands. 

What does a material handler do?

“The basic role of a material handler is to utilize manual or power material handling equipment to pick, sort and place material in a designated location. In most cases, individuals will palletize and stage material for shipment. Or they will receive and stock the inventory,” says Bishop.

Answering the question of "what does a material handler do" is quite detailed. Material handler duties may also include the following:

What are the duties of a material handler? 

  1. Load, organize and unload packages
  2. Take inventory of products and packages and purchase more if needed
  3. Perform quality control on items
  4. Document orders and transactions 
  5. Utilize inventory and records software
  6. Properly store and package materials/items
  7. Supervise the floor (if in a managerial role)
  8. Operate relevant heavy equipment like forklifts 
  9. Fulfill customer purchases and orders
  10. Ensure the workspace is clean and organized

Material handler qualifications 

Material handlers must have adequate physical strength and stamina to maneuver products around the floor. Beginner-level positions often don’t require much experience. Some positions may require a GED/high school diploma.

More experienced material handlers that operate powered industrial trucks (PIT equipment) will need specific certification and training. 

What are some required material handler skills?

  1. Picking and packing items
  2. Inventory control
  3. Lifting, moving, and carrying items
  4. Organization
  5. Inventory software
  6. Quality control 

These are just a few material handler skills to consider, but may vary based on your industry or seniority level in the company.

What are some valuable material handler soft skills?

Along with the more measurable hard skills above, Bishop highlights the following soft skills as being valuable for material handlers.

  1. Good communication and interpersonal skills
  2. Leadership
  3. Problem solving
  4. Work ethic
  5. Time management
  6. Teamwork

Is material handling a good job?

“Good” is subjective, but a material handling job has some great qualities. The demand for material handlers is forecasted to grow over the next 10 years. The job has many avenues for growth and because so many different industries rely on material handling, the skills and experience are very transferable.

What are the challenges of material handling?

Material handlers spend a lot of time on their feet, and because of the lifting and moving requirements of the job, it can be physically demanding. The good news is there are measures you can take to promote your physical wellbeing on the job.

Warehouses can be a very hectic place with lots of people and sometimes noisy equipment. It can get very busy around peak business seasons. You might be asked to work overtime to help with the volume.

You may also be asked to perform other duties and help in other areas. When interviewing for a material handler job, be sure to ask about the details of the position.

“It is imperative that you understand all the responsibilities of a material handler position and how important it is to the business. Material handler roles aren’t black and white, often you are wearing multiple hats and working across different departments,” says Bishop.

What is the material handling industry growth projected to be like?

The material handling job market is poised to grow 6% each year for the next decade. Even though companies are investing in high-tech equipment to expedite and automate handling, they’ll still need human employees. The consumer market for all sorts of products, from tech to furniture, is only growing, so the material handling sector will have to keep up to meet demand. 

“With the increase in e-commerce business, the demand for material handlers will be higher than ever. This skill set is applicable across all major industries, so you could say this profession is very sustainable,” says Bishop. 

How to become a material handler

Most material handler positions require a high school education. Some programs and companies may have apprenticeships that candidates can join to learn skills that will help them on the job. Some may even have affiliations with high schools to start internships for students. Most skills for the job will be learned in training, or on the job itself. 

Now that you've answered the question "what is a material handler?" and if you're considering a career in material handling, you are entering the industry at a good time.

“This profession is a great entry to mid-level position that can catapult you into different opportunities within a company. You can work across a variety of departments, so you can have exposure to different people and jobs. This is a great position to showcase your skill sets,” says Bishop. 

Interested in becoming a material handler? Check out the latest openings on our job board.