Career Development

What Is Freight Handling? (Definition and Necessary Skills)

August 26, 2021

Supply chains allow goods to travel all over the world through a network of roads, seaports and airports. Freight handlers are the professionals who ensure that cargo transitions from one stage of its journey to the next. If you are interested in manual jobs, you might consider a career in freight handling. In this article, we explore what freight handling is, describe the equipment that freight handlers use, differentiate it from shipping and handling and describe qualifications and skills for freight handlers.

What is freight handling?

Freight usually refers to large shipping items, and it can travel in many ways, including by airplane, ship or truck. Many goods travel using more than one method of transportation. Freight handling is the process of loading and unloading cargo at the point of origin, at every stage of the transportation process and at the cargo's final destination. Freight handling ensures that goods transition effectively through every stage of their journey and arrive safely at their destination.

What do freight handlers do?

Here are some of the tasks that freight handlers may complete:

  • Loading and unloading cargoes from ship, trucks or airplanes
  • Operating loading, unloading and transportation machinery
  • Transporting goods to their next destination
  • Storing freight in warehouses and docks
  • Tracking the locations of cargoes within storage units
  • Keeping freight records
  • Ensuring the safety of all cargoes
  • Packing and labeling goods
  • Sorting cargoes within warehouses

Related: Learn About Being a Warehouse Associate

What equipment is used in freight handling?

Many freight handlers perform much of their work manually, but many cargoes require special equipment. These are some types of equipment that freight handlers may use in their work:

  • Forklifts: Freight handers often use forklifts to load and unload heavy or bulky cargoes. Forklifts can also help place large packages in storage facilities and remove them when they are ready for transport.

  • Carts: Carts can help handlers transport multiple packages from one transportation vehicle to the next and move cargoes within a warehouse.

  • Pallets: Freight handlers often pack large items on flat structures called pallets. Pallets help freight remain stable during transportation and allow freight handlers to move them with forklifts.

  • Cranes: Freight handlers use cranes to load and unload extremely large shipping containers. Freight handlers often use cranes at docks when moving cargoes to and from ships.

  • Dollies: Dollies are small carts that can help handlers move multiple items at once or packages that are too heavy to lift manually.

  • Pallet jacks: Pallet jacks are simple forklifts that freight handlers can push manually. They allow handlers to transport and store large items in storage facilities.

  • Scanners: Freight handlers may use scanners to register item codes when they arrive at or depart from a processing area. This can tell customers and companies where the item is in the shipping process.

  • Inventory software: When working in a warehouse, freight handlers often use digital inventory systems to track and locate the items in their facility.

  • Reach trucks: Reach trucks are specialized forklifts that allow freight handlers to maneuver cargoes in small spaces and narrow warehouse aisles.

  • Protective materials: Some freight handlers may use protective blankets or packing materials to protect cargo during its travels.

  • Loading ramps: Loading ramps help freight handlers load or unload cargoes from trucks, ships or airplanes. They allow freight handlers to move to and from the vehicle more safely and enable handlers to use wheeled devices to move large items.

Related: Logistics Professional Interview Questions (With Sample Questions and Answers)

How is freight handling different from shipping and handling?

Both freight handling and shipping and handling entail moving products from their origin to their destination, but they have some important differences. Shipping and handling usually involves a vendor who packs, labels and sends an item to a customer. Freight handling usually involves larger, bulkier items and only focuses on facilitating an item's movement while in transit.

Related: Top Warehouse Skills You Need (And How to Improve Them)

Qualifications for freight handlers

Working as a freight handler doesn't usually require a college degree, although some companies may require a high school diploma or GED. Freight handling is often an entry-level job, and many freight handlers learn their professional skills at work. Some employers may require a state-issued driver's license or a commercial driver's license, and in some cases, freight handlers may have to be certified to drive a forklift.

Freight handler skills

Here are some of the skills and abilities a freight handler may use at work:

  • Capacity to stand for long periods: Freight handlers often spend most of their days standing and walking while moving packages and loading vehicles.

  • Ability to lift and carry heavy items: The majority of a freight handler's job involves moving large, heavy items in and out of vehicles and throughout warehouses. Although they have machinery to help, freight handlers still spend a lot of time lifting and carrying things on their own.

  • Basic computer skills: Many warehouses use software-based inventory and tracking systems. Freight handlers use basic computer skills to operate these systems.

  • Driving skills: Some freight handlers may use trucks or other vehicles to move items to and from warehouses, planes and boats.

  • Forklift certification: Many freight items are too heavy or bulky to move manually, so freight handlers often use forklifts to move and store these items.

  • Communication skills: Communication skills can help freight workers cooperate as members of a large warehouse staff.

  • Ability to adhere to workplace safety guidelines: Freight handlers work with large machinery and heavy items. These items can be dangerous, but knowledge of safety protocols can help freight handlers keep themselves and others safe.

Related: 45 Interview Questions for Warehouse Supervisors (With Sample Answers)

Work environment for freight handlers

Freight handlers may work in a variety of environments depending on the company that employs them. Some move freight in and out of airplanes at airports, while some primarily work in warehouses. Freight handlers may also work in dockside environments loading and unloading ships. Some senior freight handlers may work in an office in a managerial role, making schedules and hiring new workers. Most freight handlers work a standard 40 hour workweek, although they may work unusual hours like late nights in order to accommodate shipments.

Salary and job outlook for freight handlers

Freight handlers report an average base salary of $38,826 per year. Salaries for freight managers can vary based on their location, experience and time on the job, and many freight handling jobs offer opportunities for advancement. Although there is no job outlook information for freight handlers specifically, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 3% growth in demand for hand laborers and material movers between 2019 and 2029.


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