Couriers and Messengers, from Pony Express to Future Drones

by Lynn Wallis

November 14, 2017

In 2014, there were about 1,100 couriers and messengers employed in Oregon. Couriers and messengers pick up and deliver messages, documents, packages, and other items between offices, departments, or to other business concerns. Couriers and messengers carry out their jobs by traveling by foot, bicycle, motorized vehicle, or public transportation. Courier services can be distinguished from regular mail services by swift delivery times, advanced security, tracking options, and individualization of express services. Couriers are usually more expensive than standard mail services so their use is usually limited to packages where this customized service warrants the extra cost.

Industries of Employment

The courier industry has held an important place in United States commerce as far back as the gold rush era. Wells Fargo was founded in 1852 and soon became the main package delivery business in the country via stagecoach. A few years later, the Pony Express was established to move packages quicker than the stagecoach. The demand for timely deliveries continued to evolve with railroads, automobiles and interstate highways.
Today, one-fifth of couriers work for courier and messenger services and another 23 percent are self-employed. Hospitals also provide a sizeable share of jobs, with 13 percent of courier and messenger employment. There were more than 300 courier service establishments in Oregon during 2016, including well-known companies such as Federal Express, FedEx Ground, and United Parcel Service.

Wages and Skills Needed

In 2017, the hourly wages for couriers varied from a starting wage of $11.73 to $22.18 at the higher end. The average hourly wage for couriers was $16.46, which was lower than the average wage for all occupations at $24.40.
The typical entry-level education for couriers is a high school diploma or GED and no postsecondary training programs are available for this occupation in Oregon. The typical training for this occupation is short-term on-the-job training. Couriers need to have knowledge of their geographical area, state driving laws and procedures, and basic math skills.

Demand for Jobs

According to the Oregon Employment Department’s occupational projections, the number of couriers is expected to grow by 13.4 percent in Oregon from 2014 to 2024, adding 15 new and 14 replacement jobs annually. More than one-third of Oregon’s couriers and messengers are in the Portland-Metro area (Multnomah and Washington counties).

Courier Services into the Future

With growing technologies, courier delivery services are expected to improve drastically with the increasing ability to monitor traffic and provide accurate arrival times. Even today, many customers can follow the progress of their parcel from dispatch to arrival through smartphones and tracking apps. And into the future, the consideration of drones is gaining momentum as the potential for future courier service. The technology to lift goods into the air using small multi-armed drones already exists but there are many regulatory and technology hurdles to overcome before automated drones are capable of delivering goods to people’s homes and businesses.

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