The Job and What's Involved

Postmen/Postwomen collect letters, cards and parcels and deliver them to homes and businesses throughout the UK.

They perform an important role in the logistics sector by keeping people and businesses in touch with each other.

The job varies depending on where postmen/postwomen are based. For example, a postal job in a rural part of the country, such as the Lake District, would differ greatly from one in a busy city. Rural jobs may cover large areas and include providing a post bus service for the public, as well as delivering letters and packages.

Initially, mail is collected from processing centres, delivery offices, airports, businesses, post offices and post boxes, and transported to a mail centre to be sorted. High-speed machines called 'integrated mail processors' sort the mail, dealing with up to 30,000 letters an hour. If there is no postcode, the letter is dealt with manually. Mail is then placed into pigeon holes or on to a sorting frame that is divided up according to destinations. The mail is then bagged and labeled for its destination, and loaded into cages on vans, lorries, trains and aircraft.

Depending on where they work, postmen/postwomen may make their delivery on foot, by bicycle or in a small van. The round may include several hundred addresses and cover large housing developments, blocks of flats, remote cottages or city centre businesses. Postmen/Postwomen also deliver registered or recorded post, which requires getting the customer to sign to confirm the delivery.

They have to make sure that they complete their round promptly and accurately, and may be responsible for driving a minibus or van and dropping off colleagues at suitable points to start their rounds.

Postmen/Postwomen normally work 40 hours a week in shifts. Delivery work takes place between Monday and Saturday.

There are three shifts:

  • The early shift, with a 5am start, to prepare and make morning deliveries.
  • The late shift, starting between 1pm and 2pm, to collect and sort the mail.
  • The night shift, to sort and dispatch mail.

Sometimes part-time or temporary work is available. Casual workers are also taken on to cope with the Christmas period.

The job involves working outside, sometimes in adverse weather conditions such as rain, sleet and snow. Many delivery routes are best managed on foot and can involve walking a few miles each day. Seasonal uniforms and waterproofs are supplied.

Some employees work indoors only, as mail sorters. Working inside the mail processing centre can be very busy and noisy.

A driving licence is useful, but not essential.

Starting salaries may be around £15,200 a year. Some postmen/postwomen receive shift allowances for working unsocial hours.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Royal Mail is one of the UK's biggest employers, with over 180,000 employees. It handles over 80 million items of mail a day and delivers to approximately 27 million addresses across the country.

At times there can be more applicants than vacancies, but staff turnover means that Royal Mail is always recruiting. There are opportunities throughout the country.

Vacancies are advertised on the Royal Mail's website,, and in local Jobcentre Plus offices and Connexions centres. Applications are made via the Royal Mail website.

Education and Training

There are no formal entry requirements, but candidates normally need to be at least 18 years of age. They are recruited following an aptitude test (to check their ability to read addresses properly), fitness assessment and a competency-based interview.

Royal Mail also has an Apprenticeship scheme for young recruits aged from 16 to 24 years.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training is on the job and involves work shadowing. As part of an induction process, new entrants spend time learning delivery routes and how to sort mail. They also learn more about Royal Mail.

Apprentices are given the opportunity to find out more about postal operations - from processing and collecting mail through to ensuring its safe delivery. They follow an 18-month programme that offers hands-on experience and the chance to work towards an NVQ in Mail Services at Level 2.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A postman/postwoman needs to:

  • Be physically fit to carry and lift mailbags.
  • Work well alone and as part of a team.
  • Have good interpersonal skills.
  • Be punctual and good at time keeping.
  • Be reliable, honest and trustworthy.
  • Have good basic literacy skills.
  • Be able to do simple calculations.
  • Have a good memory.
  • Be prepared to work outside in all weather conditions.
  • Be aware of health and safety issues.

Your Long Term Prospects

With a minimum of one year's experience and the right skills, postmen/women can apply for promotion to supervisory and managerial roles.

There are more opportunities in larger sorting offices. Senior positions may exist at an operational and logistical level. For example, there are posts in sales, marketing and human resources.

Get Further Information

Royal Mail Group, 148 Old Street,
London EC1V 9HQ
Tel: 08457 750850

Skills for Logistics,
14 Warren Yard, Warren Farm Office Village,
Milton Keynes MK12 5NW
Tel: 0870 242 7314

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