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Forklift Operator Careers

As a forklift operator, the majority of your time will be spent riding around on a forklift. You'll use it to move objects around so, unfortunately, there will be no time for any funny business. In fact, you'll probably need to follow some safety rules to ensure no one gets hurt.

There really aren't any formal education requirements, but you will probably need to be trained on how to operate the machine. Since products and materials are shipped at all times, you may need to stay late or even work an overnight shift from time to time.

And you better believe you'll get some overtime hours from being a forklift operator, which will be a nice little surprise when it's payday. Plus, did we mention you get to drive a forklift around. Sure, you have to be careful moving objects and trying to avoid running over your co-workers but, hey, at least you get to drive a forklift.

What Does a Forklift Operator Do

Material moving machine operators use machinery to transport various objects. Some operators move construction materials around building sites or excavate earth from a mine. Others move goods around a warehouse or onto container ships.

Duties

Material moving machine operators typically do the following:

  • Set up and inspect material moving equipment
  • Control equipment with levers, wheels, or foot pedals
  • Move material according to a plan or schedule
  • Keep a record of the material they move and where they move it
  • Make minor repairs to their equipment

In warehouses, most material moving machine operators use forklifts and conveyor belts. Wireless sensors and tags are increasingly used to keep track of merchandise, allowing operators to locate them faster. Some operators also check goods for damage. These operators usually work closely with hand laborers and material movers.

Many operators work for underground and surface mining companies. They help to dig or expose the mine, remove the earth and rock, and extract coal, ore, and other mined materials.

In construction, material moving machine operators remove earth to clear space for buildings. Some work on a building site for the entire length of the construction project. For example, certain material moving machine operators help to construct highrise buildings by transporting materials to workers far above ground level.

All material moving machine operators are responsible for the safe operation of their equipment or vehicle.

Conveyor operators and tenders control conveyor systems that move materials on an automatic belt. They move materials to and from places such as storage areas, vehicles, and building sites. They monitor sensors on the conveyor to regulate the speed with which the conveyor belt moves. Operators may determine the route materials take along a conveyor based on shipping orders.

Crane and tower operators use tower and cable equipment to lift and move materials, machinery, or other heavy objects. From a control station, operators can extend and retract horizontal booms, rotate the superstructure, and lower and raise hooks attached to cables at the end of their crane or tower. Operators are usually guided by other workers on the ground using hand signals or voice signals through a radio. Most crane and tower operators work at construction sites or major ports, where they load and unload cargo. Some operators work in iron and steel mills. 

Dredge operators excavate waterways. They operate equipment on the water to remove sand, gravel, or rock from harbors or lakes. Removing these materials helps to prevent erosion and maintain navigable waterways, and allows larger ships to use more ports. Dredging is also used to help restore wetlands and maintain beaches.

Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators use machines equipped with scoops or shovels. They dig sand, earth, or other materials and load them onto conveyors or into trucks for transport elsewhere. They may also move material within a confined area, such as a construction site. Operators typically receive instructions from workers on the ground through hand signals or radios. Most of these operators work in construction or mining industries.

Hoist and winch operators, also called derrick operators, control the movement of platforms, cables, and cages that transport workers or materials for industrial operations, such as constructing a highrise building. Many of these operators raise platforms far above the ground. Operators regulate the speed of the equipment based on the needs of the workers. Many work in manufacturing, mining, and quarrying industries.

Industrial truck and tractor operators drive trucks and tractors that move materials around warehouses, storage yards, or worksites. These trucks, often called forklifts, have a lifting mechanism and forks, which make them useful for moving heavy and large objects. Some industrial truck and tractor operators drive tractors that pull trailers loaded with material around factories or storage areas.

Underground mining loading machine operators load coal, ore, and other rocks onto shuttles, mine cars, or conveyors for transport from a mine to the surface. They may use power shovels, hoisting engines equipped with scrapers or scoops, and automatic gathering arms that move materials onto a conveyor. Operators also drive their machines farther into the mine in order to gather more material.

How To Become a Forklift Operator

Education and training requirements vary by the occupation. Crane operators and excavating machine operators usually have several years of experience in related occupations, such as construction equipment operators or hoist or winch operators.

Education

Although no formal education is usually required, some companies prefer material moving machine operators to have a high school diploma. For crane operators, excavating machine operators, and dredge operators, however, a high school diploma or equivalent is typically required.

Training

Most material moving machine operators are trained on the job in less than a month. Some machines are more complex than others, such as cranes as compared with industrial trucks such as forklifts. Therefore, the amount of time spent in training will vary with the type of machine the operator is using. Learning to operate a forklift or an industrial truck in warehouses, for example, may take only a few days. Training to operate a crane for port operations may take several months. Most workers are trained by a supervisor or another experienced employee.

The International Union of Operating Engineers offers apprenticeship programs for heavy equipment operators, such as excavating machine operators or crane operators. Apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job training with technical instruction.

During their training, material moving machine operators learn a number of safety rules, many of which are standardized through the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Employers must certify that each operator has received the proper training. Operators who work with hazardous materials receive further specialized training.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

A number of states and several cities require crane operators to be licensed. To get a license, operators typically must complete a skills test in which they show that they can control a crane. They also must pass a written exam that tests their knowledge of safety rules and procedures. Some crane operators and industrial truck and tractor operators may obtain certification, which includes passing a written exam.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Crane operators and excavating machine operators usually have several years of experience working as construction equipment operators or hoist and winch operators. 

Important Qualities

Alertness. Material moving machine operators must be aware of their surroundings while operating machinery.

Hand–eye–foot coordination. Material moving machine operators should have steady hands and feet to guide and control heavy machinery precisely. They use hand controls to maneuver their machines through tight spaces, around large objects, and on uneven surfaces.

Mechanical skills. Material moving machine operators make minor adjustments to their machines and perform basic maintenance.

Visual ability. Material moving machine operators must be able to clearly see where they are driving or what they are moving. They must also watch for nearby workers, who may unknowingly be in their path.

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Average Salary
$29,558
Average Salary
Job Growth Rate
4%
Job Growth Rate
Job Openings
64,696
Job Openings

Forklift Operator Career Paths

Top Careers Before Forklift Operator

Cashier
8.8 %

Top Careers After Forklift Operator

Driver
9.0 %

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Tell us your goals and we'll match you with the rights job to get there.

Average Salary for a Forklift Operator

Forklift Operators in America make an average salary of $29,558 per year or $14 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $34,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $25,000 per year.
Average Salary
$29,558

Best Paying Cities

City
ascdesc
Average Salarydesc
Tacoma, WA
Salary Range29k - 39k$34k$34,045
Fargo, ND
Salary Range30k - 36k$34k$33,599
Minneapolis, MN
Salary Range30k - 36k$33k$33,017
Stockton, CA
Salary Range27k - 36k$32k$31,964
Lancaster, NY
Salary Range28k - 35k$32k$31,783
Portland, OR
Salary Range27k - 36k$32k$31,737
$24k
$39k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyascdescCompanyascdescStart DateascdescSalaryascdesc
1St. Shift Forklift Operators
1St. Shift Forklift Operators
Axiom Staffing Group
Axiom Staffing Group
01/26/2202
01/26/2202
$27,13101/26/2202
$27,131
Forklift Operator
Forklift Operator
Universal Forest Products
Universal Forest Products
03/31/2021
03/31/2021
$32,87003/31/2021
$32,870
Forklift Operator
Forklift Operator
Safetykleen
Safetykleen
03/31/2021
03/31/2021
$33,39203/31/2021
$33,392
Forklift Operators
Forklift Operators
Corelle Brand
Corelle Brand
03/31/2021
03/31/2021
$39,65303/31/2021
$39,653
Forklift Operator
Forklift Operator
Carlisle Construction Materials
Carlisle Construction Materials
03/31/2021
03/31/2021
$33,39203/31/2021
$33,392
See More Recent Salaries

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Forklift Operator Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming a Forklift Operator. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

Learn How To Write a Forklift Operator Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless Forklift Operator resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

View Detailed Information

Forklift Operator Demographics

Gender

male

79.6 %

unknown

11.1 %

female

9.3 %

Ethnicity

White

54.6 %

Hispanic or Latino

24.3 %

Black or African American

15.1 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

84.6 %

French

4.0 %

Carrier

2.6 %
See More Demographics

Forklift Operator Education

Majors

Business
23.0 %

Degrees

High School Diploma

41.9 %

Certificate

32.1 %

Diploma

10.8 %
See More Education Info
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Full Time
Part Time
Internship
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Top Skills For a Forklift Operator

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 14.2% of forklift operators listed forklifts on their resume, but soft skills such as alertness and communication skills are important as well.

Best States For a Forklift Operator

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a forklift operator. The best states for people in this position are Alaska, Washington, North Dakota, and Minnesota. Forklift operators make the most in Alaska with an average salary of $34,385. Whereas in Washington and North Dakota, they would average $33,863 and $33,543, respectively. While forklift operators would only make an average of $33,008 in Minnesota, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. Wisconsin

Total Forklift Operator Jobs:
1,655
Highest 10% Earn:
$37,000
Location Quotient:
1.64
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. Rhode Island

Total Forklift Operator Jobs:
336
Highest 10% Earn:
$39,000
Location Quotient:
1.51
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Pennsylvania

Total Forklift Operator Jobs:
3,811
Highest 10% Earn:
$37,000
Location Quotient:
1.79
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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Top Forklift Operator Employers

1. Walmart
4.9
Avg. Salary: 
$31,969
Forklift Operators Hired: 
1,848+
2. Randstad USA
4.1
Avg. Salary: 
$28,813
Forklift Operators Hired: 
1,784+
3. The Home Depot
4.9
Avg. Salary: 
$31,974
Forklift Operators Hired: 
1,327+
4. ManpowerGroup
4.4
Avg. Salary: 
$30,290
Forklift Operators Hired: 
1,233+
5. FedEx
4.4
Avg. Salary: 
$31,262
Forklift Operators Hired: 
1,169+
6. The Coca-Cola Company
4.7
Avg. Salary: 
$32,430
Forklift Operators Hired: 
1,166+

Forklift Operator Videos

Updated October 2, 2020