Becoming a Cargo Inspector: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a cargo inspector? Get real job duties, career outlook and salary information to see if becoming a cargo inspector is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Cargo Inspector

The main objective of the cargo inspector is to monitor commercial shipping and enforce federal transportation codes and safety regulations. Find out the pros and cons of being a cargo inspector to decide if it's right for you.

Pros of a Becoming a Cargo Inspector
Opportunities for career advancement for those staying in security*
Above average income potential (median salary of $69,000 in 2014)**
Potential increase in air cargo personnel***
Opportunity to participate in homeland security****

Cons of Becoming a Cargo Inspector
Strenuous physical activity involved*
May be exposed to hazardous materials*
Travel and relocation required for many careers****
Below-average to average job growth (8-14% from 2012-2022)*
Security clearance and background checks required for government positions****

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET OnLine, ***Congressional Research Service, ****Transportation Security Administration.

Career Information

Job Duties and Description

Cargo inspectors enforce security compliance for international and domestic shipments. Your work may entail a lot of standing, bending and walking along with working on-site at shipping docks, airports or warehouses. You'll most likely be tasked with completing security screening reports and analysis as well recommending compliance adjustments or penalties and taking part in incident remediation.

Cargo inspectors utilize scales, calculators, measuring rods and water samplers. As a cargo inspector, you may need to utilize computers for data storage and record keeping. You'll also need to possess strong communication skills as much of your work will entail communicating effectively with shipping professionals and inspection supervisors.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

According to 2012 data from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET OnLine), 44% of freight and cargo inspectors were employed by government agencies. The other cargo inspectors were employed by transportation and warehousing companies. Emphasis is also increasing toward sea, rail and over-the-road shipping. For example, U.S. Customs and Border Protection processes an average of 67,000 containers daily through all means of transport. A 2007 report by the Congressional Research Service indicated that U.S. cargo shipping was expected to increase by 50% by the year 2016 from its 2003 levels.

O*NET OnLine's 2014 data reported that freight and cargo inspectors earned a median salary of about $69,000. While entry-level positions may provide a lower income, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)'s 2014 pay bands report provided a salary range from $17,000 to as high as $157,000 for its estimated 50,000 employees.

What Are the Requirements?

Education Requirements

While there are no set education requirements for cargo inspectors, many cargo inspectors obtain a bachelor's degree. According to O*NET OnLine's 2010 data, 43% of surveyed freight and cargo inspectors had a bachelor's degree. An academic background that includes management and customer service training may be a benefit, including courses in logistics and supply chain management. In your career, you'll need to have an excellent grasp of measurements and be able to use technical equipment used for measuring and documenting inspection results, such as computer databases.

Skills and Qualifications

Your work as a cargo inspector will require excellent observation and decision-making skills. A moderate amount of strength and dexterity may also be required for physical cargo inspections. Communication skills are essential for creating reports and imparting compliance needs to shipping employees. You'll need to maintain a high level of honesty and integrity in your work.

Real Job Listings

Job openings in cargo inspection for all types of transport are available in ports throughout the country. In order to be considered a port, a city or town must be able to transport shipments to national or international destinations, either by air, sea, rail or major highway. Here are a few real examples of jobs offered through government agencies or private contractors in May 2012:

  • A governmental security agency seeks a security specialist to work out of its northern Virginia location. Duties include research and analysis, security support and customer service liaison activities. Security clearance and a background check are required. The successful candidate will have three years of related experience, a bachelor's degree or a combination of professional and academic experience. The applicant must also be willing to travel and maintain a flexible work schedule.
  • In Michigan, a governmental security agency has an opening for a surface transportation security inspector to ensure compliance, perform tests and audits as well as respond to security incidents. One year of specialized experience required in the private sector or government.
  • An independent government sub-contractor is seeking a part-time experienced inspector in San Antonio for loose cargo and container inspection. The candidate must have background experience in areas such as surveying, quality assurance or customs.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Get Trained

Since almost half of cargo inspectors have a bachelor's degree, certain academic programs can prepare you for different aspects of a career as a cargo inspector. You may choose to pursue a business-minded approach with courses and programs in supply chain management or you may choose a degree path in criminal justice or homeland security. Applicable bachelor's degree or certificate programs include logistics management, maritime surveying or criminal justice with a concentration in homeland justice. In addition to your degree program, you may choose to pursue internship opportunities such as the TSA's Student Career Experience Program, which accept students in high school and college.

Get Specialized

Many careers in cargo inspection entail gaining entry-level experience. While advancement opportunities are prevalent in transportation security, maintaining flexibility and a willingness to relocate may improve your prospects. The TSA's Career Evolution Program for entry-level professionals encourages advancement for inspectors and other professionals who are prepared to relocate to suit agency demands.

You may also choose to augment your experience by gaining professional certification through organizations like the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) International, which offers certification programs for a variety of inspection occupations, including the Physical Security Professional credential. Eligibility requirements for this certification include four years of progressive experience and a bachelor's degree, or a high school diploma and six years of work experience in physical security.

Alternative Careers

Cargo or Freight Agent

If you'd like to work with cargo, but on the shipping side, cargo (or freight) agents coordinate shipments for a variety of companies involved in airline, marine, train or truck shipping. You'll be tasked with providing logistics oversight and inventory management. You'll likely only need a high school diploma to get started because training is usually provided while employed. Like cargo inspectors, excellent organization and customer service skills are required for these positions, as well as bookkeeping and computer skills.

According to the BLS' 2010-2020 projections, employment for cargo agents was expected to increase by 29%, well above the national average for all occupations. The increasing volume of shipments due and third-party outsourcing in manufacturing contributed to this projection. Cargo agents, based on 2011 BLS data, earned a mean salary of about $41,000.

Private Investigator

If inspecting what people do is more of your thing consider becoming a private investigator. These professionals conduct searches, interviews, surveillance and background checks on the behalf of their clients. Careers in private investigation often involve confrontation, stress and potential for danger. Most states require some type of licensure for private investigators, including varying handgun registration requirements.

The growing need for companies to protect assets and private information should spur employment for private investigators in the coming years, particularly those with computer forensic training to assist with cyber-crime investigation and prevention. The BLS' 2010-2020 projections indicated a 21% increase in employment for these professionals, with top earners employed in scientific or technical consulting. Overall, private investigators earned a mean salary of about $49,000, based on BLS 2011 data.

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Featured Schools

Ashford University

  • MBA - Global Management
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  • B.A. - Business Admin

What is your highest level of education?

Strayer University

  • Master of Business Admin: Management Concentration
  • Bachelor of Business Admin: Management Concentration
  • Associate in Arts in Business Admin

What is your highest level of education completed?

Southern New Hampshire University

  • International MBA in Operations/Supply Chain Management
  • BS in Operations Management / Logistics and Transportation concentration
  • AS in Business Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • Master : Business Admin
  • BSBA - Supply Chain Management and Logistics
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Full Sail University

  • M.S. - Internet Marketing

What is your highest level of education?

Herzing University

  • MBA
  • B.S. - Business Management: Business Admin Concentration
  • Associate of Science - Business Management

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Management
  • MS - Organizational Leadership
  • BS - Business Management
  • BS - Organizational Leadership

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Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Law - Business
  • Master of Business Administration - General Management
  • Bachelor of Applied Science in Management and Leadership
  • Bachelor of Science in Business

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