Warehouses, wholesalers and retail stores would not be able to unload and store products and supplies as efficiently without the help of forklift drivers. Known as industrial truck and tractor operators under the broader classification of material moving machine operators, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, forklift drivers lift heavy crates from trucks and transport them to backroom storage rooms. They carefully operate levers and clutches, and drive slowly to decrease the risk of damage. Salaries for forklift drivers vary according to the size of their employers, experience and geographical location.
Earn Less Than $35,000
As of May 2013, forklift drivers made an average of $32,660 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or $15.70 per hour. The bottom 10 percent earned less than $20,590, and top earners’ salaries exceeded $46,960. Although not always required, 84 percent of all forklift drivers had high school diplomas, according to 2013 ONET OnLine data. Those interested in the job must also demonstrate physical strength and stamina, coordination and control, perception and concentration, and listening and time-management abilities.
Natural gas distributors paid forklift drivers the highest salaries of $64,820 in 2013, the BLS reported, followed by salaries of $53,690 by deep sea, coastal and Great Lakes water transportation companies. Forklift drivers averaged $48,080 in the metal ore mining industry and $32,170 working for warehousing and storage companies. Those employed by building materials and supplies dealers earned $24,910 annually.
High Salaries in West
In 2013, employers in Alaska paid forklift drivers the highest salaries of $45,880, according to the BLS, and those in Arkansas paid $28,220, the lowest salary among the states listed. Forklift drivers in Indiana earned salaries closer to the national average at $32,980 annually. Among the four U.S. regions, seven states in the West paid forklift drivers $34,330 to $45,880, which represented the highest-paying salary tier of the four listed. These states included Montana, Wyoming, Washington, Nevada, Alaska, California and Hawaii.
Effects of Automation
Employment for industrial truck and tractor operators, including forklift drivers, is expected to decline 3 percent through 2022, according to the BLS. One reason for the poor jobs forecast is that warehouses have installed more automated equipment, such as conveyors and robotic arms, which makes employers less apt to hire more forklift drivers. Advancement opportunities can include a move into shipping and receiving clerk positions, which require a high school diploma.