Cargo and Freight Agents

There are approximately 87,000 cargo and freight agents working in the United States. The projected job growth at 24% for cargo and freight agents over the next decade is considerably better than the average 10% for all jobs. This anticipated increase is partially due to economic growth. As the economy strengthens, more and more cargo and freight agents will be required to manage an ever increasing number of shipments. Agents will be needed across the board as shipments travel by air, roads, rails, and water. Another contributing factor is the ease with which people shop online, as well as the availability of overnight shipping. While this is good news for cargo and freight agents, it is also important to remember that this line of work is more reactive to economic fluctuations than many other job industries.

  • Cargo and freight agents assist transportation companies with handling shipments of incoming and outgoing packages. There are a number of possible work sites. Shipping docks, truck terminals, airports, warehouses, railroad stations, stock, shipping, and receiving rooms are all work environments in which a cargo or freight agent might be found.
  • Cargo and freight agents accelerate shipments by choosing the most time efficient route, making sure that required documents are completed and available, and, in the case of outgoing shipments, making sure that pickup and delivery has been arranged. In addition, cargo and freight agents are responsible for documenting the type of cargo, the number of units, the weight, the measurements, the shipment’s origination and destination, and the travel times and dates. Any items that are missing or damaged must also be documented.
  • Cargo and freight agents also verify the cost of shipping, including all charges, and in the case of overseas shipping, oversee completion of customs paperwork. Agents must also electronically monitor a shipment’s location and inform those on the receiving end.

While only a high school diploma or GED is required by most employers, there is a preference for cargo and freight agents who have computer skills as well as some clerical skills, such as record keeping and filing. Also, cargo and freight work requires strength and stamina. In addition to long periods of standing, cargo and freight agents also bend, lift, haul, or push heavy deliveries. Increased automation has relieved some of the physical demands of placed upon cargo and freight agents. However, the types of mechanical and automated help vary from employer to employer.
The work environment requires conditions that are less than ideal in terms of comfort. Many of the inside environments are not heated or cooled because large shipment doors must often be opened for extended periods of time. Some agents work in cold storage conditions. Other cargo and freight agents work outside, whatever the weather.
Training for cargo and freight agents is typically both informal and on-site. New hires are usually given one task or two related ones. When that has been mastered, another task is assigned. In this way, a cargo and freight agent learns all aspects of the job.
There is less opportunity for cargo and freight agents to advance their careers than might be offered in many other industries. One way to advance is with a promotion to team leader. Alternatively, those with office skills can often transfer into another department. Another way to increase earnings is to become a freight broker.
Most cargo and freight agents work a standard work week. Those who work for companies where large shipments regularly occur may be assigned evening hours or required to work some weekends.
Cargo and freight agents earn a median hourly pay of under $20 per hour. Those in the middle 50% earn between $14 and $25 per hour. Cargo and freight agents at the lowest end of the pay scale are paid a little more than $10 per hour, while those at the high end are paid between $25 and $30. Some companies require uniforms be worn. Most of those companies, however, provide either the uniforms or an allowance with which to purchase them.