How Do I Become a Certified Forklift Operator?

Research what it takes to become a certified forklift operator. Learn about job duties, licensure requirements and salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Heavy Equipment degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Certified Forklift Operator Do?

Forklift operators are industrial truck and tractor operators who specialize in using forklifts, which are machines that move large and heavy objects around warehouses, construction sites and storage yards. In addition to operating this specialized equipment, forklift operators keep careful logs of all of the materials they move. They also perform routine maintenance on the forklift in order to keep it in working condition. Although certification is not required, some professional organizations offer relevant credentials.

The following table provides some basic information for this profession:

Training Required Forklift training program (requirements vary by state)
Key Responsibilities Move materials around construction sites, factories & warehouses
Licensure/Certification Professional operator's license, OSHA certification
Job Growth (2014-24) 2% for all industrial truck and tractor operators*
Median Salary (2017) $32,864 for all forklift operators**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale

What Is a Forklift Operator?

As a forklift operator, it'll be your job to move materials around construction sites, factories and warehouses. You'll move such materials as earth, cement, concrete blocks and wood. You'll also load and unload trucks and ships with merchandise, luggage and building materials. During downtime, you may also be tasked with inspecting forklifts for problems and performing basic maintenance tasks.

What Skills Do I Need?

You'll need a professional operator's license to operate forklifts and other heavy-duty machinery. To become a certified forklift operator, you must be familiar with the technical functions, parts and types of forklifts that include manual and motor-operated forklifts, such as pallet jacks, basket lifts, reach forklifts, stand-ups, narrow aisle riders, wheel loaders and basket lift machines. You may work during severe weather conditions, and you must have a flexible schedule that allows you to work weekends, if necessary.

How Do I Become Certified?

Certification and licensure requirements vary by state. In most cases, verifiable completion of a forklift training program will provide you with sufficient preparation to pass licensing or certification tests. Upon completion of such a program, you'll be issued a permit and be eligible to apply for certification.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which issues these certificates, requires that you get acquainted with the federal OSHA standards for forklift operators. To gain an understanding of regulations issued by the OSHA, courses are available at various trade schools and online. The coursework itself may take a few classroom hours to complete. A permit will offer you a chance to practice and gain hands-on experience and knowledge to pass the road component of the test. The certification process typically includes a written multiple-choice test as well as a practical skills test to demonstrate that you can operate a forklift safely.

How Much Can I Make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2015, the median wages for industrial truck and tractor operators -- a category that includes forklift operators -- was $15.43 an hour (www.bls.gov). Another source, PayScale, reported that as of January 2017, most OSHA certified forklift operators earned between $10.18 and $18.12 per hour.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of working as a forklift operator, you could consider specializing in the operation of a different type of material moving machine, such as cranes. Cranes use cable and tower technology to lift and transport large materials and machines. Crane operators typically find jobs at construction sites or at ports, where cranes are used to load and unload cargo. Another option is to get a job as a heavy construction equipment operator. For instance, you could become a paving equipment operator if you wanted to work on road-building projects. In order to work as a heavy equipment operator, you need to have a high school diploma.

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