Material handlers are responsible for loading and moving materials to a plant yard, warehouse or other work site. Material handling requires a fairly high level of physical stamina, organizational skills and the ability to record and inventory materials. To become a material handler, it is helpful to gain entry-level warehouse experience and pursue a technical degree in materials handling or distribution management.
Many material handlers begin their careers by securing an entry-level position as a shipping worker or forklift driver. Shipping workers are responsible for gathering and distributing materials and then ensuring that items are properly located for distribution. Forklift operators move materials onto trucks or into warehouse storage. These entry-level positions provide employees with on-the-job warehouse training and are generally easy to obtain with a high school diploma.
Beginning as an entry-level warehouse worker allows employees to learn first hand what it takes to become a material handler. Shipping workers and forklift operators will easily become accustomed to the various equipment needed to handle materials, learn how to read packing instructions and gain exposure to the tasks required for successfully handling and distributing materials. To become a material handler and excel in the industry, it is advisable to work toward a technical degree while working part-time in a distribution warehouse.
A technical degree or certification in materials or distribution management will generally give employees a competitive edge to become a material handler. A certification program will typically cover the procedures for handling hazardous materials, route mapping and equipment safety. Students may also learn management skills and supervisory tactics for overseeing warehouse employees.
Most vocational certificates take about one year to complete. It may provide an added advantage to obtain a two-year associates degree in industrial systems technology. An associate’s degree will give more of a competitive advantage and negotiation leverage when applying for a material handler positions.
Advancement opportunities may become available through the current place of employment, or may be pursued through outside resources. Many vocational and technical schools have job placement programs that assist workers in finding secure jobs with competitive compensation. Other material handlers may approach their employers after obtaining a degree and several years of work experience and request a promotion to material handler or distribution manager.
Material handlers may be required to attend regular workshops or seminars on warehouse safety procedures. These workshops train employees on how to safely operate equipment and lift heavy materials without inflicting injury. As technological equipment advances, material handlers may be required to attend training courses on new equipment operation and repair.