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Gig-economy: Why take a job as a UPS pre-loader?

Why would anyone consider a package loading job with UPS or Fedex?

As the economy drives more Americans into part-time work and the “gig-economy” UPS and Fedex look appealing as they fill a time slot that most other part-time jobs don’t.

I took a job as a UPS pre-loader to see if a UPS career made sense and I’ve decided to share my insights. As fair warning, these evaluations are only of the job at the sorting facility at which I was hired, your mileage may vary 😉

See the rest of the ‘Gig Economy’ series:

What does a job at UPS look like?

Anyone thinking of taking on a package loading job (called pre-loading) at UPS needs to know a few things:

UPS is one of America’s largest package delivery companies and employs 345,000 people in the United States.

The career path at UPS is divided into two major branches: management and non-management.

Both career paths start with unloading and pre-loading jobs unless you have experience in management or high-volume delivery truck driving.

Most people start as pre-loaders and that’s the job I took as an addition to my retail and other part-time jobs to pay the bills.

What does a UPS pre-loader do?

Pre-loaders arrive at the sorting facility anywhere between 11:00pm and 3:30am and work until about 8:30am. Pre-load typically starts at 2:45 to 3:30, but high-volume periods like the Christmas shopping season will push the start time much earlier.

Each pre-loader is expected to load three trucks. Occasionally, high-package volume or missing team members may require a loader to tackle 4-6 trucks.

Packages arrive at the pre-loaders area on a conveyor belt. The pre-loader is expected to identify (by label code), prioritize and load in the proper spot on the truck all packages for the proper truck. The packages typically arrive at a rate of one every 5-10 seconds for each of the trucks in a three truck group. That means that you must recognize, label and load a package in about 8 seconds to keep up.

What challenges does a pre-loader deal with?

This is an incredibly physically-demanding job. If you can’t manage 45 minutes on an eliptical or you think 50 pounds is heavy, this is not the job for you. You will be fast-walking with 5-50 pounds in your hands for 4-7 hours 5 days each week. You will sweat (and in the winter, learn to layer your clothing.)

The distance from conveyor to truck is only about 3 feet, but the trucks are as much as 20 feet long and the packages often weigh over 30 pounds with some over 50. Large and heavy packages create problems for the loader which they must solve in just seconds to keep up with the oncoming volume of other packages.

Packages are expected to be loaded in numerical order according to a 1″ x 2″ 3-letter + 4-digit label on the package. The truck is divided into areas by delivery numbers. The trucks have two shelf areas and an under-shelf floor area. The shelves are designated by delivery numbers.

The left shelves are 3,000-3,999 and 7,000-7,999 on the top with the 3k range closest to the driver’s cab. The bottom shelves are 4,000 – 4,999 and 8,000 – 8,999  with the 4,000’s nearest the cab.

The right shelves are 1,000-1,999 and 5,000 – 5,999 on top and 2,000-2,999 and 6,000-6,999 on the bottom with the 1k and 2k shelves nearest the driver.

Packages load quickly at the beginning of the sort. But as the trucks fill up, the pre-loader has to spend time re-arranging to make space so that packages can be loaded in the proper numerical order or in the proper spot on the truck. Time is everything and as the morning goes on, each package represents more time spent on the truck and less time catching packages at the belt.

A few times each morning, bulk shipments will arrive. These are large numbers of packages that show up one-after-another and are impossible to load fast enough to keep up with the conveyor speed. UPS rules allow the “securing” or stopping of the conveyor to unload these packages, but management frowns on any stoppage of the belt other than an emergency and you may get written-up for stopping due to a bulk or heavy package.

Loaders are expected to load the car “neatly.” Though with the speed of the incoming packages and the number of trucks a loader is responsible for, sometimes… they end up looking a little less than neat.

Breaks are considered irregular and you’ll only get one if you beg for it. If you work from 2am to 8:30am you should expect to be going full-tilt for all 6.5 hours. This gets much more difficult when the start time moves earlier and earlier.

What is the career path of a pre-loader?

You can expect to be loading packages on to trucks for at least a year. At that point, you will be given a choice to join the union. This is the effective branching of management/driver in the career pathing at UPS.

If you go union, you have chosen to either stay as a loader/unloader in the sort facility or transfer to full-time package truck driver once a spot opens up. That can lead to a feeder truck driving position if one of those spots ever becomes available.

If you choose to stay non-union, you can be promoted to supervisor (still part-time) and eventually management position if a position opens up.

Both branches are based on seniority. You have to do the time to get the dime .. so to speak.

How much does a UPS pre-loader make?

As of fall 2015, pre-loaders make between $10 and $12 an hour starting depending on area of the country.

As a new-hire, there is no vacation, no sick-time and no health benefits.

After all this, why even bother being a UPS pre-loader?

Pre-loading is either a temporary job or path to something better depending on your situation.

If you’re a college student looking for some extra cash with hours that don’t mess with your class schedule and social life, this might fit.

If you’re looking for a career and have no skills other than being physically fit, this job could get you there. Package truck drivers can make as much as $60k/year, but you have to put your time in as a pre-loader or unloader to get there. Feeder truck drivers can make $100k+, but you have to do your time on a delivery route. Be on-time, don’t make mistakes and work hard – the opportunities will come. You just need to have an idea about where you want to end up.

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About David R.

One comment

  1. So, what you seem to say is to ‘reach your goals, be prepared to work and work hard even if it means you to EXchange directions along the way…..good message