How Much Do Transportation Logistics Specialists Earn? There's Good News and Bad News
March 15, 2021
Supply chain logistics can be a lucrative field, but the average entry-level transportation logistics specialist isn't making big bucks. Here's how to boost your income in this fast-growing field.
First, the good news: there's money to be made in logistics. Businesses spend trillions of dollars on logistics every year, and transportation can take up 80 percent of a company's logistics budget. Companies need to hire people who can keep costs low, so logistics and transportation experts are in demand.
The bad news is that the average transportation logistics specialist salary is low compared to other professionals in the logistics industry. That's pretty surprising when you consider that the supply chain can't exist without transportation logistics: there can be no procurement, production, warehousing, or distribution without trucking and shipping.
So, why aren't transport and logistics specialists paid as well as professionals in other supply chain careers? We can't give a definitive answer because there probably isn't one.
Salaries in transportation logistics might be lower because the bar for entry tends to be lower; it's possible to launch a transportation logistics career without a bachelor's degree. It may also be the case that the national salary average for transportation logistics specialists is higher than reported; sites like PayScale may be treating transportation logistics as an umbrella category that includes lower-paying positions like dispatcher.
In this article, we look at the average transportation logistics specialist salary and what you can do to boost it. It covers:
- What does a transportation logistics specialist do?
- Do transportation logistics jobs pay well?
- How much do entry-level transportation logistics positions pay?
- What is the highest level of education required to become a logistics specialist?
- What skills can increase transportation logistics specialist salaries?
- Do logistics certifications lead to higher salaries?
- What does advancement look like in transportation logistics?
- Are transportation logistics specialists in demand?
What does a transportation logistics specialist do?
Transportation logistics specialists are supply chain professionals responsible for optimizing the flow of materials and goods. They find ways to cut transportation costs without compromising inbound and outbound logistics.
It's work that can involve high-tech and low-tech tasks. Sometimes, a transportation specialist will use data analytics to identify opportunities to streamline operations related to transportation. At other times, they may spend hours at a time researching trucking companies or on the phone renegotiating shipping contracts.
In general, transportation logistics specialists are responsible for:
- Overseeing inbound and outbound freight transportation and monitoring cargo movements in real-time
- Analyzing freight costs, transport networks, traffic patterns, and other factors that impact inventory management costs
- Drafting suggestions that will lower freight costs, mitigate transportation risks, or speed distribution
- Meeting with logistics analysts, the logistics manager, and other supply chain managers
- Managing the company shipping log
- Identifying any potential delays that might affect inbound and outbound shipments
- Negotiating and procuring all transportation and services required along the supply chain
- Reviewing relationships and contracts with transportation companies, freight brokers, freight forwarders, and licensed customs brokers
- Matching rate quotes to bills of lading and vendor invoices
- Coordinating with sales to ensure accurate and timely processing of orders
- Addressing disruptions to the flow of materials and goods along the supply chain
- Aiding in the design of new transport networks or the redesign of existing networks
- Serving as a communications bridge between warehouses and carriers
- Studying supply, maintenance, procurement, and quality assurance data related to transportation procedures
- Preparing import and export documents
- Monitoring regulation updates and changes to laws concerning domestic and international transportation
Do transportation logistics jobs pay well?
Transportation logistics specialists do a lot to make logistics and supply chain management easier, but they don't make as much as other supply chain professionals. According to Salary.com, the average transportation logistics specialist salary falls somewhere between $37,000 and $46,000 ; PayScale reports $47,000. Compare that to the median salary for most other roles in the supply chain, and you might start to wonder why anyone would go into transportation logistics. Most other roles in the supply chain pay close to $60,000 to start, so it can be hard to see the appeal.
The fact is, however, that some people are drawn to transportation management careers because it dovetails with their interests and skill sets. Some transportation logistics specialists come up through the ranks as truck drivers. They live by the creed, "If you bought it, a truck brought it."
How much do entry-level transportation logistics positions pay?
Salary estimates for entry-level transportation logistics positions (i.e., those that require no work experience) are hard to find, but looking at job listings can give you a sense of what employers are paying. Most entry-level employees working for logistics companies or handling logistical planning for firms in manufacturing and other sectors appear to make about $40,000 per year.
That said, you may also see salaries in the thirties, especially when you're looking for work in rural and less-populated areas. Luckily, salaries go up from there, and there's plenty of room for advancement in logistics—even if you stopped going to school after earning an associate's degree.
What is the highest level of education required to become a logistics specialist?
It's possible to launch a career in logistics with no degree at all; many people in supply chain and logistics management advance via experience, not education. However, landing your first job in transportation planning or transportation coordination will probably be easier if you have a bachelor's degree under your belt.
Unfortunately, there are no undergraduate degrees focused solely on transportation. Some emphasize transportation systems and distribution systems management, but most programs couple logistics with supply chain management.
Students interested in becoming transportation logistics specialists earn degrees like the Bachelor of Science in Logistics and Supply Chain Management, BS in Operations Management, BS in Business Analytics, Bachelor of Business Administration in Supply Chain Management, or Bachelor of Business Administration with a Transportation and Logistics concentration (like the one offered by Texas A & M International University).
Coursework in logistics and supply chain management specialist programs usually touches on:
- Database management
- Inventory control
- Logistics planning
- Logistics software
- Logistics systems analysis
- Operations research
- Production planning
- Public procurement
- Purchasing management
- Reverse logistics
- Supply chain strategy
- Systems dynamics
- Transportation management
You don't need a master's degree to work in transportation logistics, which is a good thing considering that most of the graduate programs relevant to transportation logistics specialists grant combine supply chain management and logistics degrees. There are only a handful of master's degree and MBA programs specifically geared toward transportation logistics management:
- University of Denver's Master's in Transportation Management
- University of Washington - Seattle Campus's Master of Supply Chain Transportation & Logistics degree (which is available online).
If you really want to go to grad school, a generalist supply chain MBA program can help you advance in transportation—and transition out of it later in your career.
Some aspiring transportation logistics specialists enroll in transportation logistics certificate programs after earning an associate's degree in supply chain management. These continuing education programs are usually designed for supply chain management professionals who want to advance to logistics management positions. Students take courses like:
- Commercial Motor Carriers
- Inventory Management
- Logistics and Distribution
- Logistics and Transportation
- Shipping Operations
- Traffic Management
What skills can increase transportation logistics specialist salaries?
While critical-thinking skills and problem-solving skills are both must-haves for transportation logistics specialists, some hard skills can boost your earning potential in entry-level, mid-level, and management roles. You may be able to negotiate for a higher salary if you can prove you have experience in:
- Logistics support analysis
- Project management
- Operations management
- Supply chain operations
- Inventory management
- Data analysis
- Microsoft Excel
It's also worth researching how technology is changing the transportation logistics landscape. If you have experience using the most up-to-date RFID technology and shipment-tracking systems, you may have the edge over others in the field. The same is true if you have a knack for identifying patterns in data using data analytics tools.
Do logistics certifications lead to higher salaries?
Looking at the national salary average for transportation logistics specialists can only tell you so much. Most sites that report on earnings by role don't break down salaries by qualifications.
Perhaps the best source of information on certifications is the 2018 APICS Supply Chain Compensation and Career Survey Report. It found that transportation logistics specialists with one or more certifications earned 27 percent more than those without any certifications.
To increase your earning potential in this role, look at certifications like the:
- Certified Transport Specialist (CTS) credential
- Certified in Logistics, Transportation and Distribution (CLTD) credential
- Certified Professional Logistician (CPL) credential
- Certified Master Logistician (CML) credential
- Certified Logistics Technician (CLT) credential
- Demonstrated Logistician (DL) credential
- Demonstrated Senior Logistician (DSL) credential
- Demonstrated Master Logistician (DML) credential
- Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) credential
- Professional Designation in Logistics and Supply Chain Management (PLS) certification
What does advancement look like in transportation logistics?
Advancement in transportation logistics is all about work experience and expanding skill sets, not education. There are transportation logistics specialists with master's degrees or MBAs in supply chain management who do earn more, but probably not enough more to justify the cost of a master's degree.
The best way to make more money in transportation logistics is probably to work hard in a transportation specialist role until you have enough experience to apply for a transportation logistics analyst position (which will pay around $65,000). From there, you might become a transportation and distribution manager earning $90,000 or more or a logistics manager earning $110,000 or more. At that point, you might seriously consider becoming a logistics director, at which point you could earn more than $130,000 annually.
If, however, your goal is to make as much money as possible in logistics, you'll need to expand your expertise beyond transportation. The more you know about how the supply chain operates and its role in manufacturing, retail, and other sectors, the higher your earning potential will be. With some training (possibly on-the-job training offered in-house by your employer), you can transition into roles like:
- Supply Chain Manager ($111,000)
- Global Commodities Director ($127,000)
- Global Supply Chain Manager ($135,000)
- Vice President of Supply Chain Management ($167,000)
Are transportation logistics specialists in demand?
The quick answer is yes. Jobs are growing across the supply chain because businesses of all sizes and types are facing increasing pressure to deliver products as quickly as possible. Distribution is becoming more complicated, and warehousing needs are changing. As a result, there are currently more jobs in transportation and logistics than there are logistics specialists to fill them.
There is plenty of room to learn and grow in transportation logistics, too. A lot of the senior managers and executives at transportation and logistics companies are nearing retirement age. Logistics companies are working to ensure the young professionals of today will be ready to fill those spots in the future.
But, you may be thinking, what about the relatively low entry-level salaries? There's always the chance that those salaries will increase more quickly than expected. Transportation logistics has evolved as supply chain managers have adopted technologies like AI, machine learning, blockchain, IoT/telematics, and cloud services. Companies may begin paying professionals in this role more as the position becomes increasingly tech-driven.
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