Careers

Learn About Being a Forklift Operator

What does a forklift operator do?

A forklift operator is a manufacturing professional who uses forklifts to transport heavy materials around warehouses, factories, storage sites or construction sites. Forklift operators typically work under the direction of supply chain managers or warehouse managers. They load cargo onto large pallets that are designed with spaces for the forklift’s prongs to insert and remain in place while lifting and moving. The duties of a forklift operator include but, are not limited, to:

  • Prepping product and merchandise for shipment and moving cargo safely to and from shipping vessels

  • Inspecting product shipments sent and received for any damaged or missing products

  • Identifying and reporting any variance from quality standards to a quality assurance manager

  • Accurately stocking and organizing heavy merchandise or materials in a warehouse or storage location

  • Communicating using radio equipment for shipping, receiving, organizing and moving materials or product

  • Keeping track of inventory and accurate counts of sent and received products as part of the supply chain

  • Maintaining equipment through regular inspections and lubrication and reporting any equipment malfunctions to supervisors

  • Performing basic equipment maintenance unless a specialized mechanic is needed

  • Ensuring a safe work environment by adhering to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards

  • Recording processes for quality assurance

Average salary

Forklift operator salaries vary depending on their industry. Companies seeking an experienced and certified forklift operator will likely offer a higher salary. Entry-level forklift operators increase their earnings over time with additional training and experience. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $14.83 per hour
  • Some salaries range from $7.25 to $23.00 per hour.

Forklift operator requirements

Here are the requirements for forklifts operators:

Education

Most times, a forklift operator is an entry-level position and is not usually required to have any higher education. Some larger companies might require a high school diploma or GED, while some employers may prefer candidates with a high school diploma or GED but not require it. If you do not have a high school diploma or GED and want to improve your chances of securing a position, consider getting your GED from a community college or online.

Training

Forklifts are specialized vehicles that require training to operate safely and effectively. OSHA provides standards and guidelines for such training, including formal instruction with practical, hands-on training and evaluation ending in a certification. A forklift operator is not legally permitted to operate a forklift without supervision until they have completed training and been evaluated.

Most training for forklift operators happens on the job once they’ve already been hired. An experienced and certified instructor will show how to safely and skillfully operate a forklift and navigate it around the space. Forklift operators with previous work experience may require less training, especially if they have experience in a similar industry. 

Certifications

Employers may hire entry-level forklift operators intending to sponsor their OSHA training and certification. There are several certifications available online and at community colleges or technical schools. Sometimes, a forklift operator may want to gain additional certification once they’ve already been hired to learn more about their work, become an instructor in forklift training and increase their potential for promotions.

Various websites offer OSHA-compliant certification courses in several types of machinery operation that might be beneficial for forklift operators. Courses can be completed at your own pace, but typically take two to four hours. Once you’ve gone through the course material, you’ll take an exam and be approved to purchase a certificate. Certified operators are still required to have hands-on training in the workplace before being cleared to operate the equipment. 

Online certifications include:

  • Sit-down forklifts: This forklift is the most common and is primarily used in warehouses, hazardous waste clean-up sites and construction sites.

  • Stand-up forklift: Warehouses, farm stores and home improvement retail stores commonly use stand-up forklifts, which are more compact and easier to maneuver than sit-down forklifts.

  • Aerial lift/scissor lifts: Industries that require workers to reach high areas, such as construction, use aerial lifts and scissor lifts. These lifts require specialized training because they can reach up to 40 feet, which increases safety risk.

Skills

Forklift operators must possess certain technical and soft skills to ensure on-the-job safety and promote efficiency:

Equipment knowledge

Most times forklift operators will need to use various types of heavy equipment besides forklifts. They may need to know how to operate, inspect and make simple repairs on these machines.

Math skills

Forklift operators are commonly expected to keep track of inventory and count materials, so strong math skills can help these professionals complete inventory tasks.

Physical strength

In most cases, forklift operators are expected to lift boxes and other heavy materials without using forklifts or other machinery. They may need to lift at least 50 pounds without help or the risk of injury. Many employers specify this quality in job descriptions.

Communication

These professionals use verbal communication to provide instructions and updates on their work progress. They may have to adapt their communication style depending on who they are speaking with, such as a coworker, vendor or supervisor. Active listening is another valuable communication skill that enables forklift operators to fully understand the expectations of a task to complete it correctly and efficiently.

Teamwork

Forklift operators frequently work as part of a team in charge of particular work projects or organization tasks. A successful forklift operator will work well with others to get a job done.

Forklift operator work environment

Most industries need forklift operators to help move and organize heavy products and/or materials. Forklift operators can find positions in a wide range of fields including:

  • Food service
  • Retail stores
  • Manufacturing
  • Construction
  • Warehouse management

Everyday work environments are similar across industries. Forklift operators with likely work in environments with the following characteristics:

  • Operating a forklift indoors in a large warehouse or open factory space
  • Loading and unloading heavy materials outdoors from transport vehicles including aircraft, freight trains, ships and trucks
  • Working weekday shifts in warehouses and retail stores
  • Working weekend or early morning hours on construction sites or in manufacturing plants
  • Working one round-the-clock shift at 24-hour warehouses and job sites

How to become a forklift operator

Follow these steps to pursue a career as a forklift operator:

1. Earn a high school diploma or GED.

Forklift operators are sometimes required to have either a high school diploma or GED, so earn your GED if you don’t have a high school diploma. Check the requirements listed in job opportunities you’re interested in seeing what those employers prefer.

2. Get work experience.

Gain experience working in a warehouse or on a construction site to learn about the equipment used and the safety concerns surrounding it. You can practice basic inventory and maintenance skills in certain positions. Previous related work experience is always beneficial in building your resume.

3. Get hands-on training and necessary certification.

OSHA legally requires all forklift operators to be trained by experienced, certified operators and pass an exam to become certified. Seek forklift training courses online or at your local technical or community college to enroll.

4. Prepare your resume.

When writing your resume, it’s important to include all of your relevant skills, work experience and certifications. Consider using a simple resume template that highlights your qualifications.

Forklift operator job description example

Abe’s Food Service is seeking a forklift operator for an entry-level position in our warehouse. This position’s primary responsibilities include supporting the supply chain by loading, unloading, shipping, receiving, counting and organizing products in our warehouse. Successful candidates for this position will be comfortable operating heavy equipment, able to lift at least 50 pounds and will work to maintain a safe environment. Our warehouse is a 24-hour facility, so flexible work availability is required. A high-school diploma or GED equivalent is preferred. Current forklift operation certification is also preferred, though we are willing to train and sponsor the right candidate.

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