The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Forklift Driver

Forklift operators are tasked with moving items from one place to the other using a motorized vehicle. Typically these items are located in an industrial facility, warehouse or work yard.  Daily duties usually include material storage, inventory documentation, item pulling and stocking as well as general forklift maintenance.


In general, to be a forklift operator you will need to have completed high school and obtained your diploma. A post-secondary certificate is not required to become an operator, but you must comply with OSHA regulations in regards to training.

Further requirements include having completed the pre-requisite training programs associated with the forklift you seek to operate. Most companies seeking to hire forklift operators will offer on the job training programs that ensure you are able to learn safety procedures, job-specific skills, and on the job training to ensure compliance.  

Operatorational safety is another key part of a forklift operators job. The moving vehicle has the potential to cause serious harm or property damage if not operated properly, so a forklift operator is tasked with obtaining the proper training, maintaining safe areas, and always being aware of your surroundings.


A forklift operator can earn between $24,000 to $55,000 yearly. Forklift operators who are paid hourly can earn between $14 and $18 per hour. The pay scale doesn’t change dramatically for operators that have more experience. To earn more forklift operators with strong leadership skills and inventory or logitics experiences earn higher wages.


Traditionally, learning to become a forklift operator is achieved through mentoring on the job with another operator. One way to start is to learn about quality control, production processes and good distribution while being gainfully employed in a warehouse. Many companies will offer customized courses that you can take to earn a certificate that proves you have learned the requirements needed to operate a forklift safely.

Before you look into getting certified, you should take a job at a construction site or warehouse. This will allow you to better understand the type of environment you will be dealing with daily as well as the distraction you will encounter on a regular basis.  Most of these environments contain fumes, noises, and hazards so it’s important to know if you are able to concentrate in such environments before seeking forklift driver certification.

Getting Certified

The first thing you need to do is obtain a forklift certification or a forklift license. These are also called operator cards or training cards depending on what area of the country you happen to reside. Those who have certification prior to seeking employment are most often offered higher starting salaries and better options for career progression.  There is also a high demand for forklift operators in other countries such as the Middle East, Canada, UK, and Australia.

Locate a training program that is OSHA approved and taught by an accredited instructor. This guarantees that your certification will be OSHA approved. The official OSHA website offers a list of training recourses that they have pre-approved, but there are many places that are approved, but not listed on the website. Make sure you confirm approval prior to starting your training.  It is not possible to obtain certification online, any website that claims to offer “certification in an hour” or “online certification” is nothing but a scam to take your money and dash your hopes.

Any course you choose to obtain your forklift operator certification must follow OSHA standards to ensure you receive the proper safety training for operation. Certification or training is mandatory in order to operate a forklift. Your course should be taught by a trainer who is accredited and certified to offer education. The trainer also needs to have a minimum number of years experience working in the field operating a forklift. Courses are typically broken up into three parts: hands-on training, in-class lectures, and evaluations. Upon completing your course you will obtain certification which is valid for three years.

OSHA regulations dictate that all companies hire trained forklift operators, or train and certify their forklift operators themselves. OSHA inspectors have been known to make pop up visit to industrial parks, commercial warehouses and other locations that utilize forklift operators to ensure that regulations are being followed.


Once you get your certification, you can find gainful employment with any number of companies that are willing to pay you top dollar. Certification last for only three years, so even if you don’t have a break in your employment, you will need to recertify in order to maintain your status as a certifie forklift operator.


If you have been in an accident while operating a forklift, or if you were cited for breaking OSHA rules, you will be required to recertify immediately. The good thing about recertification in these instances is that instead of having to complete a whole course, you are only required to go over the topics for which you were cited.  While partial courses are allowed by OSHA, your specific employer may require you to take a full course again to remain in line with their own workplace safety guidelines.

The point of reevaluation is to make sure that you as an forklift operator are up to date on the current training materials, and to show that you still understand all points covered in the initial certification material.  There are several ways to complete this evaluation, and most do not require you to take a full class.

Some easy ways to complete this evaluation is to be observed by a certified trainer, they are able to follow a basic checklist of actions and protocols that you follow and watch you while you work to ensure that you have followed them.

Another method is by completing a written of verbal quiz that goes over basic safety protocols and OSHA requirements. These are meant to be more of a confirmation of continuing education than training, so passing should net you three more years of certification easily.

Getting the Job

Once you have your certification in hand, you are fully prepared to get a job as a forklift operator. If you are not already working in a warehouse or industrial yard, check out job post online to see who is hiring near your location. There are also regular open calls for forklift drivers that can be found seasonally.  Make sure to inform potential employers that you are OSHA certified.

Though many companies offer training on the job, you can negotiate a better salary and move ahead of the pack by showing that you have already completed training. Some companies will still request that you complete their in house workplace safety course even if you are already certified to remain in compliance with their internal policies.

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