What Is a Cargo Agent? (With Career Steps and Salary)

Updated March 3, 2023

Shipping and transportation is a broad field with many career opportunities. A cargo agent is one type of shipping professional who helps clients find the best transportation options for their needs. Reading more about this career path could help you determine if it's the right position for you. In this article, we explain what a cargo agent is, and we provide important career information, including job duties, average salary, job outlook and career steps.

Read more: 10 Careers in Transportation To Explore

What is a cargo agent?

A cargo agent, sometimes called a cargo and freight agent, is a professional who helps customers during the shipping process. They can work in a variety of work environments, including warehouses, stockrooms and shipping centers. They can also work directly for an airline, water transport center or shipping company.

Read more: 42 Warehouse Interview Questions and Example Answers

What does a cargo agent do?

A cargo agent assists clients with their shipping needs. Their duties can vary depending on their industry and work location, but common responsibilities may include:

  • Reviewing import and export documents

  • Discussing shipping options and prices with clients

  • Organizing goods into different shipping categories to assist with payment and fees

  • Determining the best route for shipping

  • Planning logistical transportation details with shipping companies and airlines

  • Negotiating shipping costs with freight company vendors

  • Communicating with vendors regarding claims and payment adjustments

  • Managing and assisting with cargo loading processes

  • Tracing lost packages and communicating details with clients

  • Inspecting items and counting items to compare with the invoice information

  • Estimating costs for clients, including shipping, postage and additional transport costs

  • Communicating the shipping status to customers

  • Monitoring shipments to ensure a vendor picks up the cargo or delivers cargo

  • Creating shipping documents, including bills, invoices and reports

  • Tracking shipping details, including cargo contents, weight and transportation time

Important career skills for cargo agents

To succeed in their role, cargo agents may use the following skills:

  • Organizational skills: Cargo agents need to organize shipping routes, cost information and data records. They can use strong organizational skills to keep the information accurate.

  • Adaptable thinking: When determining the best shipping methods and routes for clients, cargo agents may need to think creatively. They can use adaptable thinking to create shipping plans that meet individual client's needs.

  • Communication: A cargo agent communicates with clients and other transportation professionals. They can use communication skills to explain shipping costs and procedures, to negotiate costs and to network with new clients or partners.

  • Negotiation: Some cargo agents may negotiate prices with shipping centers.

  • Customer service: Cargo agents often work directly with customers. They may need to explain concepts, answer questions and resolve conflicts.

  • Problem-solving: When shipping schedules or prices change, a cargo agent can use problem-solving skills to find creative solutions.

  • Computer skills: Many cargo agents use software or computer programs to assist with the shipping process. This may involve inputting shipping data, updating invoices or printing shipping materials.

  • Technical knowledge: Cargo agents need to be experts on transportation services. They may specialize in one area, such as air transportation or railroads, or they can work with multiple transportation options. They need to understand average shipping times, routes and costs to help their clients.

Read more: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

Average salary for cargo agents

The national average salary for cargo agents is $43,282 per year. Cargo agents also earn, on average, an additional $4,962 per year in overtime. Your salary can depend upon your geographic location, experience and work environment.

Job outlook for cargo agents

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects job openings in the transportation and material moving industry, which includes cargo agents, to increase by 3% from 2019 to 2029. As companies grow, they may have more shipping and transportation needs.

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How to become a cargo agent

If you are interested in becoming a cargo agent, you can follow these general career steps:

1. Complete education

To become a cargo agent, professionals typically earn a high school diploma or equivalent degree. Some aspiring cargo agents earn their bachelor's degree, but this is optional in this career path. During high school, professionals can develop their mathematical skills, adaptive thinking and communication skills.

2. Explore areas of focus

When beginning your cargo shipping career, consider which industry or transportation method you are most interested in. It may be possible to move within the industry, but choosing an area of focus could help you determine your next career steps. Options to consider can include:

  • Air transportation

  • Railroad shipping

  • Boat and docking services

  • Trucks and shipping centers

3. Consider training programs

After completing their high school education, some cargo agents complete a certificate program. This is usually optional, but some companies may require or prefer specialized training. For example, some airlines may require air cargo agents to complete a certification program to learn about airline safety measures and customer service.

In a training program, professionals can learn more about their industry and also develop their technical skills. For example, some training programs train aspiring cargo managers to use common shipping software programs.

4. Gain professional experience

Aspiring cargo agents can begin their professional careers by gaining experience in the shipping or transportation sector. These professionals often begin working under the supervision of senior cargo agents. Some transportation companies offer apprenticeship programs where new professionals can work with a mentor.

Consider researching entry-level positions and apprenticeships in your area and specialty. As an apprentice, your duties may include weighing packages, packing items for shipping and moving items into storage. In this role, you can develop your industry knowledge and technical skills.

Read more: 15 Warehouse Jobs That Pay Well

5. Apply for advanced positions

As you develop your skills, you may begin applying for cargo agent positions. Some professionals choose to advance their careers within a company. For example, if you are an apprentice at a local transportation company, you may be able to move into a cargo agent role at that same company. Other professionals may choose to explore openings at other companies. Consider creating a resume and cover letter that shows your soft skills and your transportation technical skills.

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