Forklift training and certification – what you need to know


Warehouses, factories and other industrial facilities are generally busy with activity. Forklift operators are usually right at the action’s center. They move continually, working throughout the day to move, load, unload, deliver and distribute assorted items and materials.

A forklift operator is a good vocation for those who are suited for the job. Unlike an IT professional or ultrasound technician, two popular twenty-first century jobs, a forklift operator’s work is usually repetitive and very noisy at times. It may also require night or weekend work, but an ultrasound technician or IT worker can experience this as well. Forklift operators enjoy competitive salaries and benefits, and certified operators typically earn more than untrained workers.

What is a Forklift Operator?

Forklift operators maneuver forklift vehicles in factories, warehouses, construction sites, storage yards and other industrial areas. Forklift vehicles provide efficient loading and unloading of flatbed trucks, tractor-trailer rigs, railway cars and industrial elevators.

Some forklift operators work outdoors in industrial yards, but most work inside warehouses and other buildings. They use many different types of machines in their work: electric stand-up riders and narrow aisle riders, diesel- or gas-powered trucks, rough terrain forklifts and even small motorized pallet jacks.

Forklift work is often described with three words: repetitive, monotonous and tedious. Not everyone is cut out for the work, and many operators are required to work evening, night and weekend shifts. The turnover rate is high for forklift, truck and tractor operators, but the jobs are available for those who want to pursue this vocation.

The Importance of Forklift Certification

It takes more than interest, energy or stamina to operate forklifts for a living. Forklift operators must receive adequate training to legally operate their vehicles. Studies show that certified forklift operators earn more money in their vocation than their uncertified, untrained counterparts.

Many forklift operator job applicants already have knowledge and training. Some may have years of experience with forklifts but are not certified to operate them. Successful candidates have complete and current forklift certification. They are thoroughly trained in forklift operation and safety, and they are familiar with all the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) laws.

Education, Skills and Certification

Most companies require that their forklift operators have a high school diploma or equivalent certificate. Some employers offer on-the-job training, but operators can also get training outside the workplace and online. Certified operators must meet the requirements set forth by OSHA, a federal government agency that oversees workplace safety.

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Busy warehouses, factories and other facilities are often hectic and dangerous. Safety skills are a top priority for forklift operators. Excellent organizational skills are necessary to load, unload, move and arrange heavy items for hours on end. Communication skills are also important, since forklift operators must work with other people.

Certification programs are generally offered online, and the courses last as long as it takes the operator to complete them. The training involves forklift safety, OSHA rules and regulations, a permit to operate forklifts, a written examination and other paperwork. After training is completed, the employer or future employer evaluates the forklift operator’s driving ability. Certified forklift operators receive a certificate of achievement and a wallet-sized forklift license that is valid for three years.

Employment, Wages and Job Outlook

According to the most recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, forklift, truck and tractor operators earn between $20,000 and $46,000 a year, or roughly between $10 and $22 an hour. Certified forklift operators have the potential to significantly increase their hourly rate.

Warehouses, grocery wholesalers, building supply companies and general freight trucking offer the highest levels of employment for forklift operators. Warehouses, water and rail transportation support, sawmills and gypsum manufacturers have the highest concentrations of employment.

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The top-paying industries for forklift operators are warehouses, electric power generation, natural gas distribution, metal ore mining and rail transportation. In the United States, many of these jobs are found in Alaska, California, North Dakota, Washington and Wyoming. California, Florida, Texas and several other states employ the greatest number of truck and tractor operators, including forklift operators.

United States companies currently employs more than 500,000 workers as forklift, truck and tractor operators. The job growth for this vocation is expected to remain steady at least through the next five years, primarily through job turnover.