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Cargo and Freight Agents

Significant Points
  • Many jobs are entry level and do not require more than a high school diploma.
  • Although cargo traffic is expected to grow faster than in the past, employment of cargo and freight agents will not keep pace because of technological advances.

    Nature of the Work

    Cargo and freight agents arrange for and track incoming and outgoing cargo and freight shipments in airline, train, or trucking terminals or on shipping docks. They expedite shipments by determining the route that shipments are to take and by preparing all necessary shipping documents. The agents take orders from customers and arrange for the pickup of freight or cargo for delivery to loading platforms. Cargo and freight agents may keep records of the cargo, such as its amount, type, weight, and dimensions. They keep a tally of missing items, record the condition of damaged items, and document any excess supplies.

    Cargo and freight agents arrange cargo according to its destination. They also determine the shipping rates and other charges that can sometimes apply to the freight. For imported or exported freight, they verify that the proper customs paperwork is in order. Cargo and freight agents often track shipments electronically, using bar codes, and answer customers’ inquiries on the status of their shipments.

    Working Conditions

    Cargo and freight agents work in a wide variety of businesses, institutions, and industries. Some work in warehouses, stockrooms, or shipping and receiving rooms that may not be temperature controlled. Others may spend time in cold storage rooms or outside on loading platforms, where they are exposed to the weather.

    Most jobs for cargo and freight agents involve frequent standing, bending, walking, and stretching. Some lifting and carrying of smaller items also may be involved. 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 is employed 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 in other jobs when large shipments are involved.

    Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

    Many jobs are entry level and do not require more than a high school diploma. Employers, however, prefer to hire those familiar with computers. Typing, filing, recordkeeping, and other clerical skills also are important.

    Cargo and freight agents start out by checking items to be shipped and then attaching labels to them and making sure that the addresses are correct. Training in the use of automated equipment usually is done informally, on the job. As this occupation becomes more automated, however, workers may need longer periods of training in order to master the use of the equipment. Advancement opportunities for cargo and freight agents vary with the place of employment.


    Cargo and freight agents held about 70,000 jobs in 2004. Most jobs were in transportation. Approximately 20 percent worked in the air transportation industry and 8 percent worked in the truck transportation industry. Couriers employed another 11 percent. In addition, about 43 percent worked for firms engaged in support activities for the transportation industry.

    Job Outlook

    Employment of cargo and freight agents is expected to decline through 2014. Although cargo traffic is expected to grow faster than in the past, employment of cargo and freight agents will not keep pace because of technological advances. For example, the increasing use of bar codes on cargo and freight allows agents and customers to track these shipments quickly over the Internet, rather than manually tracking their location. In addition, customs and insurance paperwork now can be completed over the Internet by customers, reducing the need for cargo and freight agents.

    Despite these advances in technology that dampen job growth among cargo and freight agents, job openings will continue to arise due to increases in buying over the Internet, which will result in more shipments. Jobs also will open up because of the increasing importance of same-day delivery, which expands the role of agents. In addition, many job openings will be created to replace cargo and freight agents who leave the occupation.


    Median annual earnings of cargo and freight agents in May 2004 were $34,250. The middle 50 percent earned between $25,720 and $43,250. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,700, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $54,480.

    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.

    Related Occupations

    Cargo and freight agents plan and coordinate shipments of cargo by airlines, trains, and trucks. They also arrange freight pickup with customers. Others who do similar work are couriers and messengers; shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks; weighers, measurers, checkers, and samplers, recordkeeping; truck drivers and driver/sales workers; and Postal Service workers

    Sources of Additional Information

    Information about job opportunities may be obtained from local employers and local offices of the State employment service.

      • Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition

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