How to become a forklift operator

Written by Kate Lopaze

These days, logistics careers are a growing hotspot. People with the skills and know-how to manage the inventory coming in and out of warehouses or bring that specialized skill set to a construction site are going to be in demand for the foreseeable future. Specifically, forklift operators, with their large equipment expertise, are in a great position for the future. With e-commerce companies like Amazon building more and more warehouses every day, these trained professionals help keep products moving efficiently on their trip from one place to another.

What does a forklift operator do?

Forklift operators use heavy machinery to move objects or materials. They are most often found in warehouses (or other storage settings), factories, and on construction sites. The direct work tasks are pretty straightforward—using the forklift to move object A to place B. However, forklift operators may also be responsible for:

  • Maintaining forklifts and other mechanical equipment
  • Handling other cargo equipment, such as shrink wrap machines, lifts, and trailers
  • Using software related to inventory and supply chain management

This is a job that also requires a lot of physical stamina and strength, as it may require heavy lifting and the ability to work on repetitive tasks for hours at a time. It’s also classified as a “hazardous occupation” by the Fair Labor Standards Act, which means that operators need to pay close attention to safety and situational awareness.

What skills do forklift operators have?

Forklift operators need to have a very specific skill set in order to be successful.

Mechanical Skills: Forklift operators work with heavy equipment and tractors all day, every day, so it’s important to be able to troubleshoot issues as they arise, or risk losing productivity.

Manual Dexterity: Because they’re moving heavy objects or loads, forklift operators need to be able to control both the vehicle and the materials they’re moving.

What do you need to become a forklift operator?

Because of the equipment involved and the potential hazards of handling heavy equipment and heavy loads, forklift operators need to be certified. Certification typically involves completing a training course from an accredited school or online program. Once the course is complete, you’ll need to pass a forklift-specific test, which is usually made up of a written component and a physical (driving) component.

How much do forklift operators make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for certified forklift operators is $33,890, or $16.29 per hour. This can change depending on the skill level necessary to perform the job or the complexity of the work.

What’s the outlook for forklift operators?

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts only slight growth for this field through 2024, there are increasing opportunities in cities and towns that are becoming transportation and shipping/logistics hubs.

If you’re thinking about a career in the warehouse/logistics world, and you don’t mind doing the (literal) heavy lifting, then getting certified as a forklift operator can be a great entry point. Good luck!

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.