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January 2018
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Cover Story: Choose your path in material handling
By Mary Glindinning

Howard Bernstein spent 60 years in material handling, and never worked a day.

“Some people call work a four-letter word. I say play is a four-letter word. I stayed in it until I was age 88 because it was fun,” Bernstein said. “It’s fun because it’s diverse and creative. You are not limited to any specific industry to work with.

“In material handling, you go from one company to another. You learn a lot about everything.”

Bernstein had such a good time in material handling that he wants others to have that same experience. As a result, he is establishing a material handling distribution scholarship in partnership with the Material Handling Education Foundation. Five to six scholarships will be awarded.

“We have to attract young, bright minds into the industry that has been so great to me. We need to get young people involved with material handling because it’s such an important industry,” Bernstein said. “These are labor-saving devices. It is equipment that people need.”

Material handling encompasses every part of every industry, he said. In manufacturing, material handling moves products in and out. Every product on store shelves got there through material handling. People need to move products and store them, in spite of economic ups and downs.

“It’s a need. It’s not selling hula hoops,” Bernstein said. “People need these products. It makes us more competitive.”

He has seen the industry flourish because it is essential, he said.

Bernstein started working for a lumber company after serving in the U.S. Navy, and the company was making wood pallets. “I learned about the people that were going to use the pallets,” he said. Wood pallets had been established during World War II to unitize products and speed loading and unloading of ships. So 40 bags were put on a pallet instead of being hauled out one or two at a time.

In 1951, Bernstein took his life savings of $5,000 and started Altas Lift Truck Rentals. “I watched the growth of it. It’s steady,” he said.

He sold his companies about six months ago to Allen Rawson, longtime president of Atlas Lift Truck Rentals & Sales.

The unique applications and ubiquitous nature of material handling solutions is what makes the industry so appealing, said Liz Richards, executive director of the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association.

“Material handling products are everywhere, although often ‘hidden in plain sight’ with nearly every business relying on some type of product or service, making this industry an attractive career for the high achiever with a thirst for knowledge about other industries,” Richards said. “The opportunities are endless, but no two applications are the same.

“People involved in developing material handling solutions often say the best part of their job is being exposed to such a wide variety of industries and learning how they operate. For someone who doesn’t like repetitive work, this is an ideal career path.”

Jobs in material handling include distributorships, accounting, information technology, customer service, marketing, human resources, project management and sales with many opportunities for growth and upward mobility.

“The material handling industry is always looking for skilled service technicians and experienced sales people and compensation packages are highly competitive,” Richards said. “Many distributor organizations are owned by entrepreneurs who started their careers in sales or service and eventually worked their way up to the top spot.”

“While mostly a male dominated industry, women can make a real mark in this industry as natural problem solvers.”

Internships give students a first-hand look at a career in material handling and give the companies a chance to groom enthusiastic and eager new talent, she said.

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