Forklift drivers, also referred to as forklift operators, are responsible for managing and operating forklifts, also known as industrial trucks. They load, unload, store and deliver goods and materials from storage facilities, trucks, construction sites, railroad cars, cargo containers, or loading docks. They often carry out these operations in warehouses, freight yards, manufacturing plants, storage yards, airports, and railroad depots.
Forklift Operators play a significant role in the overall economy because most products almost every product sold in the US has been touched by a forklift at one point or requires the use of industrial trucks to be moved. The US department of labor projects that by 2029 there will be 64,300 new job openings for forklift operators. With a bit of practical training and the proper certification, becoming a forklift truck driver is one of the quickest ways to gain valuable and employable job skills.
Determine the Type of Forklift You need certification for
The forklift that most of us are familiar with balls into a category of Powered Industrial Trucks. These include the tractors used to pull luggage carts at airports, the boom lifts used primarily in construction, and the industrial counterbalance Lift Truck, aka the forklift.
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What are the Typical Duties of a Forklift Operator
- Loading and unloading materials
- Checking and ensuring that the loads are secure
- Moving materials around the storage facility or site
- Completing physical tasks accurately and quickly
- Performing essential maintenance and equipment checks
- Inspecting machinery
- Reporting shortages
- Identifying damages
- Transporting raw materials to workstations
- Maintaining maintenance logs
- Updating inventory records
How Much Do Forklift Drivers Make?
Forklift Operators can expect to make from $10 to $30 an hour depending on their experience, the location, and the employer. A quick scan of just about any job board will bring up multiple job listings for forklift operators, both part-time and full-time, and many with benefits.
How to Become a Forklift Driver
There are multiple approaches one can take to become a forklift operator. You can directly apply to an employer, get an apprenticeship, or do certification courses. You could select one or explore all of them and find out what works for you best. Note that some employers have different specific qualification requirements beyond that of the forklift operator.
To get a forklift operator job, you need to be at least 18 years old and have received the proper training. Although you do not need any formal education, most employers prefer to hire someone with a GED or high school diploma. The kind of warehouse you will be working in will determine whether you need additional certification. For instance, if you are handling dangerous equipment or toxic chemicals.
Due to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), forklift safety training requirements are usually the same across the board. Your employer has to comply with a long list of rules for you to become a forklift operator. Therefore, your employer will provide forklift operator training, which is often reoccurring.
Physical Requirements to be a forklift operator
- Visual Ability
Becoming a Forklift Operator can be a hazardous occupation. You must have a clear vision with good depth perception to see what you are moving or where you are driving. You also have to watch out for your coworkers who may be on your path unknowingly.
- Physical Agility
Forklift operators will frequently need to climb on and off of the equipment, load and unload cartons, shrink wrap, and band cargo.
- Mechanical Skills
You may require some basic mechanical skills since you may have to perform preventative maintenance and make some adjustments as needed to your equipment.
Hand, eye, and foot coordination are essential when operating large equipment of any kind. Your hands and feet need to be steady, so they can precisely control and guide the heavy machinery. You will have to use the hand controls to maneuver your machine on uneven surfaces, around large objects, and through tight spaces.
Forklift Certifications, and Licenses
A forklift license is the nickname given the Certified Operator Card operators need to carry with them while using a forklift. There are multiple certification courses available that you can take to become a certified forklift operator. Almost all employers require forklift operators to complete and pass an OSHA-approved training course. It confirms that you can safely maintain and operate a forklift. You can identify and avoid safety hazards and take the steps required to minimize risk while operating a forklift. Avoid operating a forklift if you are not certified since you are endangering yourself and your coworkers.
How to Get Your forklift certification training (both free and paid)
It is essential to have a forklift license or, more correctly, a forklift certification that meets OAHA requirements. It ensures and confirms that you can operate machinery well and you will safely operate the machinery. Online certification courses are as legitimate as physical courses but make sure that they are OSHA-approved. As long as they covered all the required topics, you can consider them legitimate. You will still need to make sure that you also get hands-on training to be certified.
There are many options for obtaining a forklift operator certification, both in-person and online. Forklift certification requirements may differ slightly depending on your location, but the process normally involves classroom or online training and a few hours of Hands-On training.
Online courses are the easiest way to get started, and there are a wide variety of options available for online courses, both free and paid. There are several free courses available, but most of these charge a fee for the certificate after you completed the free portion of the course. Many of the online paid courses very affordable, ranging from $20 to $100.
If you are training to operate an industrial truck or forklift in a warehouse, your training may last a couple of days or up to a week. Those training to operate complex machinery may take several weeks to learn to confidently operate that equipment.
The International Union of Operating Engineers and many Teamsters Union locals offers apprenticeship training that can combine technical instruction with paid on-the-job training. Also, many Forklift dealers offer certification programs to their customers and to individuals.
Most companies prefer candidates to be already certified to drive a forklift. That said if the pool of applicants is thin on certifications and if you have the required OSHA training out of the way and only lack the Hands-On training, this could move you to the top of the list.
How much work experience do you need to apply for a forklift operator job
Suppose you know the basics but have little experience as an operator. Completing an OSHA-approved training course online will help place you above applicants that may have no experience at all.
At this point, you could apply to an off-site manufacturing company or a building supply company and gain more experience as a forklift operator.
However, as mentioned earlier, many companies offer training, so you may not need any experience. That said, you have a greater chance at a forklift driver position if the employer knows you already have the required coursework completed and only need hands-on training.
The Importance of a forklift Certification
Forklifts are typically used to move heavy objects and materials around construction sites, storage facilities, and warehouses. Therefore, the safety of all employees and the forklift Operator is vital because this machinery carries large loads.
The well-trained and experienced forklift operator can avoid accidents and injury to workers and overturned forklifts. This is why most companies require certification prior to being allowed to operate a forklift on your own. The certification shows the employer you have been trained on the risks involved with operating the machine and are well equipped to safely operate it.
It is also worth mentioning that some certification course, especially those taught by forklift dealerships, incorporates basic repairs and equipment inspection training. This can also make you more valuable as an applicant because you can help extend the truck’s life span and prevent forklift malfunction.
Employers also benefit from only hiring certified forklift operators, include:
- Low insurance rates
- Higher productivity from employees, since less money and time, will be spent on accidents and mistakes.
- Less property and equipment damage
- Lower loss rate due to operator error
- A safer workplace
OSHA can and does fine companies whose forklift Operators are not certified. Certification is also excellent for forklift Operators and can benefit them in multiple ways. For instance, it can contribute to job stability and increases your chances of getting promoted.
There are many jobs that require forklift certification, where are the forklift is only a small part of their duties. Some of these can include shipping clerks, inventory clerks, restock and order pickers.
How to Get a Forklift Driver Certification
To get your certification, you can take an OSHA-approved course online or in person. While in-person training is preferable if it is not available in your area, online training courses are more than adequate to complete the classroom portion of the training. Vocational schools and some job placement agencies, and even forklift dealerships can provide hands-on training, so you will need to see what’s available in your area.
Many companies that rely heavily on forklifts will have someone certified to teach me the hands-on portion of the training. Most people usually go for in-person training at a local forklift company or a vocational school. The course includes classwork, a written test, training, and evaluation. Listed below are the steps typically required for you to complete the certification process.
When getting a certification, you need to select a course that will certify you in the specific truck you plan to operate. These may include a counterbalance, stand-up, or sit-down forklift.
- Signup for the Course
Once you have figured out the kind of forklift you need to be certified on, find an OSHA-approved course and signup. As mentioned earlier, the training program can either be online or in person. If it is in person, it would be best to find one that is within your area. You can find the courses at a vocational school, local community college, forklift dealers, or you could inquire from your employer.
- Take OSHA Approved Classes
Once you have enrolled for the class, the first part of training is usually coursework on safety, forklift maintenance, driving techniques, and OSHA regulations. The courses typically last a total of six hours to eight hours. They can include written educational materials, videos, or lectures.
- Pass the Written Exam
Once you finish your coursework, you must take a written exam. You have to score at least 75% to proceed with your training.
- Complete the Hands-On Training
When you pass the written exams, you will have to demonstrate the skills you acquired on a forklift. Experienced forklift trainers will show you how to operate the equipment, after which you will practice the needed exercises. The exercises may include working on inclines, navigating tight spaces, lifting loads, loading materials, and forklift inspection.
Your trainer will grade you based on your efficiency, safety, and skills. Your employer may be the one who will assess your abilities if you already work in a forklift company. As mentioned earlier, training will keep reoccurring, and you may have to be evaluated by your employer at least once every three years.
- Pass the Final Evaluation
Your instructor is the one who evaluates your overall performance. This is based on your written exam score and driving rating. You will be certified if both results are satisfactory. This certification includes your name, evaluation, and training date and will be signed by the instructor.
If you took an online course, it only includes the written exam and classroom lecture portions. To become certified, you will need an instructor who will provide you with in-person hands-on training. Online training is the best option for anyone who is already experienced in working with forklifts but needs to update their certification. They only need to finish their coursework so that they can complete their training and certification. In most cases, the employer is usually the one approving and evaluating their skills.
Forklift Certification Cost
To get certified, you have to pay a certain amount. But how much? Well, for starters, as with anything else, if you would like to have quality training, you will have to pay extra. Training will cost you something between $50 and $250, a relatively affordable fee for the quality training you will get. Forklift driver training often lasts one or two days. If you are employed, your employer will cover your training cost, and the training can be done on-site. This is the ideal delivery method for workers. You may check online to see how much training costs in your area and ensure it is OSHA-approved.
As mentioned earlier, multiple benefits come with being a certified forklift operator. Considering the benefits listed earlier, you have no reason to decline to enroll in a training program and getting certified. There are so many schools that offer training courses, so you have multiple options to choose from.
The Benefits of Being Pre-Certified
Multiple industries rely on forklifts since they play a vital role. They offer convenience and make the toughest of jobs more manageable. That is why if you are a certified forklift operator, you have a better chance at having both a rewarding and stable career. As aforementioned, you require certain skills to become a forklift operator. Listed below are some of the benefits of being a pre-certified Forklift Operator.
Multiple Job Opportunities
If you work in a forklift company, you may consider advancing your career by starting as a forklift operator. To become a forklift operator, you will have to advance your skillset. You will have a chance to make more money, and the best forklift jobs will also be available to you. The more advanced your skill set is, the more employers willing to pay you. Employers prefer hiring certified operators because they are sure their processes will be efficient and protected from safety hazards.
Knowing that employers will not need to spend time and resources to get you certified can give you an advantage over uncertified applicants. Having certification also proves that you are ready to take on responsibility and are proactive with your career. In that case, it improves your resume for a forklift operator, and you can operate a forklift in any state, which means wherever you go, you will always have job security.
How important is forklift Safety
If you are certified, you can be able to keep yourself and other employees safe. Forklifts often cause most accidents in the construction and manufacturing industries. A significant part of forklift training centers on safety compliance. You learn to operate the machine and also protect those around you. Certification ensures that whenever you are operating a forklift, you have safety in your mind.
Being certified also means that you comply with the safety regulations of your workplace as a forklift operator. Therefore, both you and the company you are working for are protected in case of a workplace accident. OSHA has standards in place that require all forklift operators to be certified. As mentioned earlier, they can find both the employee and employer who violate these rules. Certification is very crucial for legal purposes. Avoid risking legal issues and fines and get certified.
Saves on Costs
When you are certified and regularly operate the forklift, you will learn more about the machinery. Over time, you will be able to handle maintenance issues instead of paying someone else. As aforementioned, during training, you also get to cover basic maintenance, which comes in handy. Your employer may also invest in training your further to keep the costs down. When you are certified, you operate the forklift properly, which cuts down on the wear and tear.
How to Apply for a Job as a Forklift Driver Without Experience
Some employers hire you even if you are not experienced and teach you on the job. You can either enroll for training or do a course online, then try and find an employer who offers training on the job. You can also reach out to placement agencies once you are done with training, and they will find you an employer.
Some placement agencies offer both job placement and training simultaneously. Therefore, once you complete training, they will place you for a job. You could also find a job through classified ads, network, advertise your skills, or contact HRs. If you have friends or anyone you know working in the industry, you could ask them to take you on as a part-time operator and accept the minimum wage as a start.
The forklift company is fast-growing, and in a couple of years, there will be multiple job openings. If you would like to become a forklift operator, it would be best to get certification since it will improve your chances of getting hired, and it also means you will have a good salary.
By Bryan Greene