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Forklift Operator Career Guide

Do you have a knack for understanding how to operate machinery? If so, and you like working as part of a team, a job as a forklift operator may be a good fit for you. 

Forklift operators typically work in a warehouse, construction site, or industrial environment. They’re responsible for moving materials from one location to another. This job may sound simple, but it can be essential to a company’s daily operations. A forklift operator moves everything from pallets, cases, and boxes to construction and industrial materials where they need to be safely and efficiently. 

Sample job description

[Your Company Name] approaches workplace efficiency and worker safety with the utmost seriousness, and as a result we recruit only the most driven and capable forklift operators. Forklifts are potentially dangerous pieces of equipment, but in the right hands they can be a powerful force for increasing productivity while decreasing manual labor. Our operators’ ability to maneuver quickly but carefully around obstacles, without endangering their coworkers or damaging any nonhuman materials, is key to the successful running of our operation. Without forklift operators possessing critical thinking skills and fast reflexes, [Your Company Name] would swiftly cease to function. Used responsibly, forklifts are among the most valuable tools in our arsenal, and so, therefore, are their operators.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Operate industrial equipment for the accurate unloading, loading, storing, shipping, and receiving of products and materials
  • Stack, package, band, shrink-wrap, and label products and materials
  • Accountable for the safe and efficient operation of associated machinery

Education and experience

This position requires a high school diploma or equivalent. Forklift operators need to be certified, preferably with on-the-job experience.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Knowledge of logistical supply chain methods and procedures
  • Knowledge of inventory control
  • Ability to read and understand delivery orders
  • Ability to follow safe work practices and procedures

Preferred qualifications

  • Forklift license
  • 5+ years of experience in a warehouse environment operating a forklift
  • A hard worker and self-starter

Typical work environment

Forklift operators are responsible for driving the forklifts through warehouses and storage facilities to attend to a range of duties. Loading and unloading deliveries, moving crates and wooden pallets, stacking boxes and other containers, and storing goods in their appointed places are just a few of the tasks our forklift operators are expected to perform on a routine basis. Safely stowing the forklift itself in such a way that it does not create an obstruction or hinder ongoing operations is another duty that forklift drivers cannot afford to neglect. In addition to these considerations, forklift operators must also be willing and able to assess their vehicles on a regular basis in order to ascertain whether they have been damaged or compromised in such a way as to render them unsafe.

Typical hours

The typical work hours for a forklift operator are from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday in a warehouse, construction, or industrial setting. With materials often shipping around the clock, overtime hours aren’t uncommon. 

Available certifications

To distinguish yourself from other, less qualified applicants, forklift operators may consider getting a few certifications under their belts, like:

  • Commercial Driver License. In order to earn a Commercial Driver License (CDL), you must first obtain a commercial learner’s permit and then pass a driving skills test. While a CDL is not required to operate a forklift, earning one will demonstrate that you are proficient with the operation of heavy vehicles. There is more than one type of CDL, and you are advised to conduct your own research in order to determine which type is the best fit for you. Class A licenses are required to operate vehicles or combinations of vehicles weighing in excess of 26,000 pounds, Class B licenses are required to operate single unhitched vehicles weighing in excess of 26,000 pounds, and Class C licenses are required to operate single unhitched vehicles weighing less than 26,000 pounds.
  • OSHA Safety Certificate. In the warehouse, OSHA is extremely important, and all forklift operators need to be knowledgeable in it. However, to obtain this certification, you must complete a 40-hour program, have more than two years of training, and two more years of work experience. Then, you can qualify to receive this certificate. 

Career path

The career path for a forklift operator starts by obtaining a high school diploma or equivalent, as well as earning forklift operator certification. Often, new forklift operators might begin with an entry-level position but can receive promotions over time with experience. 

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 53-7011, 53-7021, 53-7031, 53-7041, 53-7051

2020 Employment710,800
Projected Employment in 2030763,800
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 7% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift53,000 increase

With automation affecting almost every industry in some way, it’s reasonable to expect that it also will impact forklift operator functions to a degree. Many forklift operator tasks can only be done by a person, however.