Career Guide for Shipping Clerks

Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks record shipments being sent and received. These positions are typically entry level with little to no education or experience required. Many require some light to moderate package lifting.

In this free career guide, you will learn how to be a successful shipping clerk.

Shipping Clerk Summary

  • Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks generally are entry-level workers who need no more than a high school diploma.
  • Employers prefer to hire those familiar with computers and other electronic office and business equipment.
  • Employment is expected to decline moderately as a result of increasing automation; however, job openings will result from the need to replace workers who leave the occupation.

Working as a Shipping Clerk

Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks keep records of all goods shipped and received. Their duties depend on the size of the establishment they work for and the level of automation used. Larger companies typically are more able to finance the purchase of computers, scanners, and other equipment to handle some or all of a clerk’s responsibilities. In smaller companies, a clerk maintains records, prepares shipments, sorts packages, and accepts deliveries.

Shipping clerks keep records of all outgoing shipments. They prepare shipping documents and mailing labels and make sure that orders have been filled correctly. Also, they record items taken from inventory and note when orders were filled. Sometimes they fill the order themselves, taking merchandise from the stockroom, noting when inventories run low, and wrapping or packing the goods in shipping containers. They also address and label packages, look up and compute freight or postal rates, and record the weight and cost of each shipment. In addition, shipping clerks may prepare invoices and furnish information about shipments to other parts of the company, such as the accounting department. In modern warehouses, the recording of this shipping information and the printing of mailing labels can be automated with the use of a computer and barcode scanner. Once a shipment is checked and ready to go, shipping clerks may sort and move the goods from the warehouse to the shipping dock or truck terminal and direct their loading.

Receiving clerks perform tasks similar to those of shipping clerks. They determine whether orders have been filled correctly by verifying incoming shipments against the original order and the accompanying bill of lading or invoice. They make a record of the shipment and the condition of its contents. In many firms, receiving clerks either use hand-held scanners to record barcodes on incoming products or manually enter the information into a computer. These data then can be transferred to the appropriate departments. An increasing number of clerks at larger, more modern companies are using radio-frequency identification (RFID) scanners, which store and remotely retrieve data by using tags or transponders. Clerks then check the shipment for any discrepancies in quantity, price, and discounts. Receiving clerks may route or move shipments to the proper department, warehouse section, or stockroom. They also may arrange for adjustments with shippers if merchandise is lost or damaged. Receiving clerks in small businesses may perform some duties similar to those of stock clerks. In larger establishments, receiving clerks may control all receiving platform operations, such as the scheduling of trucks, recording of shipments, and handling of damaged goods.

Traffic clerks maintain records on the destination, weight, and charges for all incoming and outgoing freight. They verify rate charges by comparing the classification of materials with rate charts. In many companies, this work may be automated. Information either is scanned or is entered by hand into a computer for use by the accounting department or other departments within the company. Traffic clerks also keep a file of claims for overcharges and for damage to goods in transit.

It is common, especially in smaller companies, for workers to perform the functions of all three positions. These workers are responsible for incoming and outgoing packages, as well as the logistical details of shipping them. Some shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks share responsibilities with material moving workers and must sort, load, unload or store items. Clerks with these additional responsibilities may use machinery, such as forklifts, to transport items in a warehouse.

Work environment. Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks often work in offices inside manufacturing plants or warehouses. Most jobs involve frequent standing, bending, walking, and stretching. Lifting and carrying smaller items also may be involved, especially at small companies with less automation. Although automated devices have lessened the physical demands of this occupation, their use remains somewhat limited. The work still can be strenuous, even though mechanical material handling equipment, such as computerized conveyor systems, may be used to move heavy items.

The typical workweek is Monday through Friday; however, evening and weekend hours are common in some jobs and may be required when large shipments are involved or during major holiday periods.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks generally are entry-level workers who need no more than a high school diploma. Because of increasing automation, however, employers prefer to hire those familiar with computers and other electronic office and business equipment.

Education and training. Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks typically learn the job by doing routine tasks under close supervision. They first learn how to count and mark stock, and then start keeping records and taking inventory.

Training in the use of automated equipment usually is done informally on the job. As these occupations become more automated, however, workers may need longer periods of training to master the use of the equipment and technology. Many employers prefer to hire workers experienced with computers and other electronic equipment.

Other qualifications. Strength, stamina, communication skills, attention to detail, and an ability to work at repetitive tasks, sometimes under pressure, are important characteristics.

Advancement. Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks may be promoted to supervisory roles, and those with an understanding of other tasks in their firm can move into other positions, such as purchasing managers or logisticians.

Employment for Shipping Clerks

Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks held about 750,500 jobs in 2008. About 71 percent were employed in manufacturing or by wholesale and retail establishments. Although jobs for shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks are found throughout the country, many clerks work in urban areas, where shipping depots in factories and wholesale establishments usually are located.

Job Outlook

Employment is expected to decline moderately as a result of increasing automation. However, job openings will result from the need to replace shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks who leave the occupation.

Employment change. Employment of shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks is expected to decline moderately by 7 percent between 2008 and 2018. As companies increasingly use computers and high-technology scanners to store and retrieve shipping and receiving records, fewer clerks will be needed to oversee these activities.

Methods of handling materials have changed significantly in recent years. Large warehouses increasingly are becoming automated, with equipment such as automatic sorting systems, robots, computer-directed trucks, and automated identification and data collection (AIDC) systems. This automation, coupled with the growing use of hand-held barcode and RFID scanners in shipping and receiving departments, should increase the productivity of shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks.

Job prospects. Despite the projected employment decline, many job openings will occur because of the need to replace shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks who leave the occupation. This is a large entry-level occupation, and many vacancies are created as workers leave as part of their normal career progression. Because smaller warehouses, distribution centers, and trucking terminals will continue to rely on sorting and moving goods by hand, job opportunities at those facilities may be better than at larger, more automated centers.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Change,
2008-18
Number Percent
Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks 43-5071 750,500 701,200 -49,300 -7
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings for Shipping Clerks

Median annual wages of shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks in May 2008 were $27,660. The middle 50 percent earned between $21,900 and $34,640. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18,000, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $42,990.

These workers usually receive the same benefits as most other workers. If uniforms are required, employers generally provide them or offer an allowance to purchase them.

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