Forklift Operator: Job Outlook & Career Information

Mar 12, 2019

Career Definition for a Forklift Operator

Forklift operators maneuver vehicles to move heavy objects in factories, warehouses, stores, and other facilities. Some forklift operators will work outside, but the majority work indoors. They will use many different types of machines ranging from small, gas-powered forklifts to large-scale hydraulic models. The work can be repetitive and noisy and might involve working an evening or night shift.

Education High school diploma or equivalent, on-the-job training, outside programs available
Job Skills Safety-oriented, communication and organizational skills
Median Salary (2017)* $33,630 ( Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators)
Job Growth (2016-2026)* 7% (average) (Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Most companies that need forklift operators require job applicants to have high school diplomas. Many workplaces offer on-the-job training for forklift operators, but training is also available outside the workplace; some programs are even offered online. Forklift operators must meet the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency which oversees workplace safety issues.

Skills Required

All forklift operators should place great importance on safety techniques because workplaces needing heavy equipment such as forklifts can be busy, hectic, and dangerous. Forklift operators must also have keen organizational skills to move and rearrange large objects for hours at a time. Forklift operators should be able to work and communicate well with others.

Career and Economic Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that 549,900 workers in this field were employed in 2016 as industrial truck and tractor operators, a category that includes forklift operators. The BLS also reports that the median annual salary for workers in this category was $33,630 in 2017. Additionally, the BLS projected that the growth for material moving machine operators, specifically industrial truck and tractor or forklift operators, will increase by 7% (average) between 2016 and 2026.

Alternate Career Options

Other jobs similar to a Forklift Operator that may interest you include:

Hand Laborers and Material Movers

Those more interested in the moving occupations that don't use machines might want to look into this job. Sometimes a high school diploma isn't required, and skills are learned on the job for this occupation. Workers transport objects by hand and sometimes also pack or wrap materials. The BLS predicted a 7% (as fast as average) job growth for this occupation from 2016-2026 and reported a median annual wage of $25,870 in 2017.

Construction Equipment Operators

This occupation that involves driving heavy machinery while constructing bridges, roads and buildings could expect faster-than-average employment growth of 12%, from 2016-2026, the BLS projected. Some of these workers attend trade schools or take part in formal apprenticeships, although many learn while on the job. In 2017, the BLS revealed that these operators earned a median annual salary of $46,080.

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