How to Become a Forklift Operator

It’s easy to get the required training, and the construction industry needs you.

Thinking of becoming a forklift driver? There’s good news and bad news. On average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these jobs were expected to grow by only 3 percent per year between 2014 and 2024. (The average growth rate for all occupations was projected to be 7 percent.) But there’s one industry that’s practically begging for these workers: construction.

According to Brian Turmail, senior executive director of public affairs for The Associated General Contractors of America, “Forty seven percent of firms that hire equipment operators tell us they are having a hard time finding enough qualified candidates to hire for that category of worker.”

Getting certified

You need to be certified to operate a forklift (and you must be at least 18 years old). The certification training requirements are similar from state to state, since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets the standards. However, Massachusetts and California have a few additional requirements beyond the federal rules.

There are two ways to get forklift certification training: directly from an employer or from an outside source such as a training center or vocational school. In either case, OSHA requires the instruction to be conducted by qualified trainers who have a recognized degree, certificate or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training, and experience have demonstrated the ability to train and evaluate forklift operators. The instruction must include both formal (lecture, video, online, etc.) training and hands-on training. And yes, there will be a test.

United Rentals’ United Academy offers a variety of training courses you can sign up for. Some employers also take advantage of United Academy to train new forklift operators. When operators receive outside training, OSHA requires the employer to confirm the person’s competency.

Note that there are different types of forklifts. You should be trained on the type you plan to operate. If you want to operate a rough terrain forklift, the training may be slightly more extensive.  

If you are applying for a forklift position, you’ll have a leg up if you’re already certified.

What does the job pay?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the 2016 median pay for forklift drivers (classified as material moving operators) was $38,890 per year, or $16.29 per hour. While there are some regional variances, this will give you an idea of the type of income you’ll receive.

To make more money — and perhaps make yourself more marketable — you may want to consider becoming a heavy construction equipment operator. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median 2016 pay for these jobs was $45,040 per year, or $21.65 per hour. Of course, more training is required to become a heavy equipment operator. Typically, workers learn heavy equipment operation on the job, through an apprenticeship or by attending a vocational school.