4 minute read

Forklift Operator

Education and Training: High school diploma
Average Salary: $26,000
Job Outlook:Good

Job Description

The purpose of a forklift is to move around objects that are too heavy to pick up by hand, and the majority of forklift operator jobs are in warehouses. A forklift operator performs various tasks which involve moving goods and materials from one place to another. This may mean unloading trucks, loading trucks, supplying production areas with particular products, or removing the finished products to a warehouse storage area.

They may also be required to build pallets of goods and materials for loading onto trucks. This part of the job involves following an order form and driving the forklift around the warehouse in order to find all the separate components of the load. Some loads are weight sensitive, so the forklift operator has to first move the goods onto a scale so that an accurate weight can be recorded. Anyone choosing to do this job needs to be a good judge of distances between objects, and they need to be able to work confidently without close supervision.

An additional part of the job may be maintenance of the machines on a daily basis, as this is often done by the operators. Good physical health is essential as the job can require lifting and pushing heavy objects and bending and stretching. Quick reactions and good eyesight are also necessary.

The forklift used can be gas powered, liquid gas powered, or electric powered. Some forklifts are stand-up models while others are sit down models. They operate in a way which is similar to cars as they are driven using a steering wheel; some are quite specialized in that they have the ability to load and unload train cars, and these have attachments allowing them to be secured to a train storage container.

Education and Training Requirements

Although only a high school diploma is necessary for this job, gaining OSHA forklift certification will enable you to have a far greater choice of jobs and will increase your earning potential. In fact for some jobs it may be a necessity. The certification process is quite straightforward, and can be found online as it is taught privately and in schools and community colleges.

The training takes roughly 8 hours to complete and includes a written test. Practice tests are easy to find online, so if you are a little unsure it’s worth trying a few until you have the confidence to pass. The practical part of the certification process involves an obstacle course test which is essentially a skills test to ensure that you can operate the forklift safely. Hands on evaluation must be done on a job site. Forklift certification needs to be renewed every couple of years so a lot of employers run their own certification programs.

Getting the Job

You may well be able to find a job as a forklift operator with just a high school diploma, and your employer might pay for you to attend an OSHA certification course. The alternative is to choose to complete this course before you start applying for jobs, and it will undoubtedly give you an advantage over others who haven’t taken the time and trouble to do this course themselves. If you would like to do this course before applying for jobs, then ask at your local school or community college about the availability of courses in your area.

Job prospects, Employment Outlook and Career Development

Good forklift operators are always going to be in demand, especially those who can operate a number of different forklifts. Forklift operators may go on to become supervisors, and would be responsible for overseeing a number of other forklift operators, ensuring their work is done correctly, and that health and safety standards are met. Forklift operators can also go on to train to become a forklift safety instructor.

Working Conditions and Environment

The majority of jobs for forklift operators are in warehouses and factories, and most do not have air conditioning. These types of environments can often be noisy and cramped, and sometimes hazardous so use all protective gear which is offered. The majority of jobs will require a standard 40 hour working week, and good timekeeping is essential.

Salary and Benefits

The base salary of a forklift operator is around $10.50 an hour to $15 an hour, while overtime rates range from $15.50 an hour to $22. Some operators will earn annual bonuses of between $200 and $1,300 for meeting productivity goals, and some employers offer profit-sharing which can range between $500 and $2,000 a year. This gives an average annual salary of between $24,000 and $35,000. More experienced forklift operators who are capable of driving a number of different forklifts and dealing with different kinds of loads can earn more, with the most experienced paying around $18 an hour.

Where to Go for More Information

Bureau of Labor Statistics
PSB Ste. 2135
2 Massachusetts Ave. NE
Washington, DC 20212-0001
(202) 691-5700

Prince George’s Community College
312 Marshall Ave., Ste. 204-A
Laurel, MD 20707
(301) 322-0062

United States Department of Labor
200 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20210
(800) 321-6742

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesManufacturing & Production