Forklift operators move heavy materials from one point to another at a job site. They might work in a warehouse moving pallets of material, or they might have a job moving building supplies on a construction site. In some instances, the forklift operator may operate other powered industrial trucks, such as a scissor lift truck. This entry-level position gives the employee the skills to move into other, higher-paid jobs as a material-moving machine operator.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires that anyone who operates a forklift or any powered industrial truck have training in the operation of the vehicle. OSHA also requires forklift operators to be at least 18 years old. Training involves either classroom or online lessons on the physics of lifting heavy weights safely, the parts of a lift truck, safe truck operation, maintenance and refueling. To complete his training, a forklift operator must pass a multiple-choice test and demonstrate safe use of a forklift truck.
The forklift operator is responsible for storing and retrieving goods in the warehouse or storage area of the workplace. As new goods come in, he rotates stock so the oldest materials are used first. The forklift operator should note any damaged cartons, crates or containers as he stores them so he can report them to his supervisor. As he retrieves materials for use or sale, the materials truck operator records items removed from inventory. Maintaining a safe, orderly work area is part of the job for a forklift operator, and he must always be watchful of individuals in his work zone and mindful of their safety.
To operate a forklift truck and maneuver heavy loads in tight spaces, the operator needs good eye-hand-foot coordination. Good coordination is also necessary to operate the forklift’s controls. The forklift operator needs good eyesight so he can read packing labels on stacked materials. Good verbal communication skills are necessary so the forklift operator can communicate with his supervisors to know what materials to move and where to move them. Since the materials truck operator keeps track of the inventory he moves, he needs good organizational skills so he can keep good records.
Job Outlook and Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the number of material moving machine operators to increase by 12 percent in 2020, which compares to the average growth rate of 14 percent expected for all U.S.occupations. As more warehouses become computerized, the demand for forklift drivers may decline. The demand for crane and tower operators, a similar job with similar training, is expected to increase by 16 percent. Working as a crane and tower operator is often the next step up the career ladder for forklift operators. The average salary for industrial forklift operators was $29,780 in 2010, while it was $46,230 for crane and tower operators.
2016 Salary Information for Material Moving Machine Operators
Material moving machine operators earned a median annual salary of $34,530 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, material moving machine operators earned a 25th percentile salary of $28,210, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $42,810, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 681,900 people were employed in the U.S. as material moving machine operators.