what is a forklift operator?

Most warehouses have a heavy lifting team, but some products are too heavy for anyone to lift. Forklift operators use heavy machinery to lift the heaviest loads. As a driver, you use the forklift to

- Lift pallets
- Transport materials
- Stack products
- Place deliveries on top shelves
- Load pallets onto trucks
- Remove items from storage

You don't need a lot of education or experience to be a forklift operator — if you can drive and use machinery, you're the right person for the job. However, it's essential to use safety precautions whenever you operate a forklift. Some people skip a few steps to save time, resulting in damaged products and safety incidents.

other responsibilities

In addition to moving goods, you are responsible for inspecting the machinery, keeping track of inventory, and letting the supervisors know whenever you have an issue. You keep a log and report any issues with the inventory, like damaged or missing products. Other responsibilities include keeping the floor clean and taking care of spills and obstacles before you get on the forklift. Your supervisor will give you on-the-job training to ensure that you know how to use the forklift properly. Once you have this knowledge, you can work in just about any warehouse or storage facility.

forklift operator jobs

average salary of forklift operator

According to Forklift Certification, forklift operators make an average of $13 an hour or $27,000 a year. At the bottom of the scale, some operators make $10 an hour or $20,000 a year, with some operators making even less than that. However, others make $20 an hour or $40,000. If you're working full time, you'll get a full yearly salary with the possibility of bonuses. Some work part-time, but operators have plenty of opportunities for advancement. No warehouse or storage facility can operate without forklift drivers.

additional factors

Some facilities hire uncertified forklift operators, but if you get your certification, you will see an increase in pay. Your region also has a lot to do with your salary. Big cities pay more than rural areas, although you'll also have to consider the cost of living in that area. Most operators get opportunities for overtime that comes with time-and-a-half pay. You get more chances for overtime during the holiday season when people order products and materials in mass quantities.


types of forklift operator

Forklift operators come in two classes: certified and uncertified. Some employers won't hire you or look at your resume if you're not certified. When you're certified, you've taken a written and hands-on test to prove that you know what you're doing. The exam tests your ability to operate the forklift and practice safety protocols. However, some employers hire uncertified forklift operators and offer on-the-job certification.


working as a forklift operator

Being a forklift operator sounds like a straightforward job, but it's a little more complicated than you might realize. Here's what you need to know before you apply for a job.

forklift operator job description

Working safely is your biggest responsibility as a forklift operator. You operate heavy machinery that could severely injure or kill a person if you use it improperly. For example, if you fail to make sure  a pallet is secure before you lift it with the forklift, the load could fall off and injure someone on the floor. The forklift could also tip over if you try to carry a load that's too heavy. Obstacles, slippery surfaces, and other hazards could cause you to lose control of the forklift. As the forklift operator, it's your job to keep these accidents from happening. That means cleaning up obstacles, keeping an eye out for co-workers, and never going against safety protocols even if they seem pointless.

male looking away while operating a machine in a warehouse.
male looking away while operating a machine in a warehouse.

work environment

Forklift operators work indoors and outdoors — often a combination of both. If you work in a warehouse, most of your work will probably be indoors. You'll work in a well-lit environment with heat and air conditioning as well as offices, a break room, and indoor restrooms. You will have to go outside periodically to greet the delivery drivers and unload their materials. Inside, you might have to deal with indoor obstacles like narrow aisles and floor spills. Every facility is different, so some warehouses have more driving space than others. Working indoors is a little riskier because you don't have room for your co-workers to spread out.

working outdoors

If you work in a garden center or a place that stores pallets outdoors, you'll spend a lot of time in the elements. You have to bundle up when it gets cold, then spend time in front of the fan when it gets hot. Good employers provide lots of water for their forklift operators. If it’s raining or snowing, watch out for slippery surfaces. However, you'll also get the opportunity to enjoy the fresh air and spend time outdoors when the weather is nice. In addition to lifting pallets, you load and unload the truck when it arrives.

work schedule

If your warehouse isn't open 24/7, you'll get day, afternoon, or night shifts. Some facilities offer a combination of shifts, while others give you one consistent shift every day. You might be able to choose your shift, but a lot of supervisors give you the shifts that work best for the company. You can expect overnight shifts if you work at a facility that's open 24 hours a day. Since these places tend to get busy, you'll be logging overtime hours throughout the year.

weekly shifts

When you get the job, expect to work on nights, weekends, and holidays. Some part-time workers only have weekend shifts, so you could go to school, raise your kids or find another job during the rest of the week. Part-time workers could get up to 7 shifts per week. Full-time workers usually get five shifts per week, but every company's schedule is different. You'll get more shifts if you log overtime hours. Some warehouses close during major holidays, but others expect you to work on Thanksgiving, New Year's Eve, and even Christmas.

job outlook

No warehouse, storage facility, or big box store can survive without forklift operators. If you adhere to their safety procedures, you have a reasonable amount of job security.


education & qualifications

Forklift operators don't necessarily need a lot of education. In fact, many employers will accept a high school diploma. For this reason, this job is popular with people who just graduated from high school and need to get some job experience. Forklift operator jobs are also great for older adults who haven't attended college or earned a two-year degree. If you can drive, operate machinery and obey company regulations, you qualify as a forklift operator. You should get a two-year degree if you want to advance in the company, but other than that, your employer gives you all the training that you need.

previous experience

Forklift certifications are one of the few exceptions to this rule. Fortunately, most employers offer on-the-job training if you don't already have your certification. Some previous experience increases your chances of getting hired, but many people get hired without prior experience. Even if you don't have forklift experience, having a history of working with heavy machinery looks good on your resume. Your employer will also look for customer service experience if you're applying for a position that works directly with customers. This doesn't have to be forklift operation experience — you could have worked in a retail store or call center.

on-the-job training

When you get hired, you'll start with online training. This includes videos, modules, and quizzes to get you started. Afterward, you'll get on-the-job training that teaches you how to operate a forklift, obey safety procedures and inspect the machinery to keep it in working order. You might get training for additional tasks like scanning barcodes, using the company's software, and inspecting packages for damage. If a product arrives damaged, you must notify your supervisor before selling it to a customer. You'll also get training on spotting your co-workers and setting up safety barriers.

skills & competencies

For the most part, you only need basic skills to work as a forklift operator. This includes the ability to learn quickly and retain knowledge so that you can get on the floor as soon as possible. You also need a strong work ethic, so the company stays on schedule. Most facilities have a tight schedule that they need to maintain to keep their customers happy. Time management is another important skill — you need to get as much done in your shift as possible without cutting corners and potentially causing a safety hazard.

physical skills

Since you're using a forklift to lift heavy loads, physical strength isn't the most important skill. However, it helps to have physical strength because you'll be lifting smaller packages. If you work in a store, you separate the freight and organize the boxes. You also need to be comfortable driving and using heavy machinery. Forklifts can look intimidating at first, but your supervisor will give you on-the-job training to ensure that you're ready to use the equipment. You'll need to have good eyesight and spatial awareness so that you can navigate through narrow aisles and load the pallets in the right area.

focused male looking behind him
focused male looking behind him


FAQs about working as a forklift operator.


working with randstad as a forklift operator

Working as a forklift operator is a great way to enter the workforce. Even if you’re planning to work in a completely different industry, you can start out operating a forklift and get some unique experience on your resume. Some benefits of working as a forklift operator include:

  • You’ll gain experience that opens up a wide variety of other job opportunities related to warehouses, heavy machinery use, and customer service.
  • You'll have an active job that helps you get fit and stay in shape. Plus, it doesn't involve backbreaking labor.
  • Some employers offer plenty of opportunities for overtime.
  • You can work days, afternoons and weekends — or even overnights if you prefer that.
  • You'll have good job security because thousands of facilities need forklift operators.
  • This job has a positive outlook and plenty of advancement opportunities.
  • Forklift operators have opportunities for both part-time and full-time work.
  • Your employer gives you on-the-job training, so you don't need any extra education. Plus, you'll get paid for your training.
  • Most employers offer higher salaries when you get certified.
  • You'll learn additional skills like managing inventory, logging incidents, and entering data into the system.

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