If you’re looking to get your forklift license, now is a great time.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, companies are expected to hire an additional 32,600 equipment operators by 2028.
But if you’re new to forklifts, you probably have a lot of questions:
- How do I become a forklift operator?
- What do I need to study?
- How do I get certified?
Well, you’re in the right place. Because in this post, we’ve put together everything you need to know to get trained, certified, and land your first forklift driving job.
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
- Chapter 1: The "3 Pillars" of Forklift Operator Certification
- Chapter 2: Where to Get Forklift License Training: All Your Options Explained
- Chapter 3: Forklift Training Topics: A Sneak Peak at What You’ll Learn in Class
- Chapter 4: How to Pass Your Forklift Certification Test With Flying Colors
- Chapter 5: Should I Become a Forklift Operator? How to Decide If the ‘Operator’s Life’ Is Right for You
- Chapter 6: How to Get a Job as a Forklift Driver
Part I: How to Get a Forklift License
The first step in pursuing your forklift license is to understand what's required to get it.
The government’s top workplace safety watchdog - the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) - is the authority that dictates the rules of forklift licensing.
And in standard 1910.178(l), you’ll find all of OSHA’s forklift certification requirements.
But you didn’t come here to read a bunch of dry “legalese” from the government, did you? Of course not. You came here for the short, sweet answer.
So here it is, put simply.
In order to get your forklift operator’s license, OSHA says that you must receive:
- Formal instruction
- Hands-on training and evaluation
- Certification by your employer
Together, we might call these the “3 pillars” of forklift operator certification. But let’s expand on each “pillar,” so you understand exactly what’s involved.
“Formal instruction” simply means classroom teaching. It can consist of a “lecture, discussion, interactive computer learning, video, and/or written material” [OSHA standard 1910.178(l)(2)(ii)]. But the instruction must also cover certain topics to be considered comprehensive.
OSHA lays out all 22 topics it mandates be taught in standards 1910.178(l)(3)(i) and 1910.178(l)(3)(ii).
But again, you came here for just the simple facts. Basically, any training program should cover:
- How to operate the different types of truck the operator will be using (instructions, safety precautions, limitations, etc.)
- Forklift capacity, stability, steering, maneuvering, and visibility
- How to construct, transport, stack, and unstack loads
- Pre-shift inspections and any maintenance the operator will be required to perform
- How forklift attachments work
- The dangers of operating in confined/hazardous spaces and the necessary precautions drivers should take when doing so
- How to refuel (internal combustion trucks) and/or charge batteries (electric trucks)
- How to safely operate a fork truck on different surface conditions, ramps, and slopes
- How to work safely around pedestrians in the workplace
In chapter 3 of this post, we’ll dive a little deeper into these topics, so you’ll be prepared even before you sign up for training.
Hands-on training and evaluation
This portion of training must consist of “demonstrations performed by the trainer and practical exercises performed by the trainee” [OSHA standard 1910.178(l)(2)(ii)]. In other words, you must be shown how to actually operate a forklift and also be observed doing so.
Certification by your employer
Lastly, your employer must do two things before you can legally operate a forklift:
- Confirm that you’ve received the required training
- Evaluate you as you operate a forklift in the workplace
If your employer is satisfied, then “boom”: You’re certified!
A few more words on this last requirement...
This last “pillar” deserves a little more attention.
That’s because many people new to forklifts think that they can become licensed on their own. But OSHA makes it clear in standards 1910.178(l)(1)(i) and 1910.178(l)(1)(ii) that only your employer can make the final determination.
To be clear: Only your employer can actually certify you to operate a forklift.
Nevertheless, you can still receive forklift operator training on your own. That includes both the classroom and hands-on portions. And doing so can make you stand out more among other applicants when you apply for a forklift driving job. So it’s worth checking into.
But before we move onto the next chapter, where we cover training programs, let’s answer a couple common questions you might still have.
Questions about forklift certification requirements
Do you need a driver's license to operate a forklift?
While it might seem like it, the reality is that a forklift operator license is entirely separate from a driver's license. That means that you can have one without having the other.
So, a bad driving record will not prevent you from getting your forklift license.
That's great news if you’ve never gotten your driver's license. Or if you might've lost yours due to accidents, tickets, or for some other reason.
What is the penalty for driving a forklift without a license?
Getting proper certification to drive and operate a forklift is serious business. And OSHA makes the failure to do so quite a serious matter as well, with stiff penalties.
In fact, employers can be fined, jailed, or even issued “stop work” orders for allowing employees to operate without a license. And employees can be fined or jailed if it’s found that they’ve violated the law.
So if you're thinking of operating a forklift without proper licensing, just don't do it. It's not worth the risk to you, your employer, and the safety of your colleagues and others in your facility.
Now, let’s go through your training options.
Just to quickly recap, you’ve learned that you need classroom instruction, hands-on training, and employer evaluation to get your forklift license.
On your own, you can fulfill the first of those two requirements. But the third can only be satisfied when you’re actually hired.
So your next question might be, “where can I go to get my forklift license training”?
Your two basic options for forklift training classes are:
But which one is right for you?
Let’s cover the features and benefits of each. That way, you can make an informed decision, based on your preferences and circumstances.
First things first. Let's address the "elephant in the room":
Is online forklift certification legit?
With lots of options and aggressive marketing for online certification courses, you've probably had this question cross your mind.
The simple answer is that they can only get you trained. But they cannot get you certified.
That’s because, as you know, your employer - not the training company - is ultimately responsible for actually certifying you to operate a forklift on their premises.
So, as long as the program adequately covers the topics required by OSHA (as we covered in the previous chapter), and your employer is also satisfied with it, then the program is “legit.”
Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk about what you can expect from online courses.
An overview of online training programs
Online certification courses really aren't much different than any other online course you might take.
Usually, the company offering the course will give you a login, where you can see all the different classes and resources included with your purchase.
This is what a typical online forklift certification program looks like. Notice the training topics listed on the left.
Then, when you start, you’ll watch videos, do some reading, and complete interactive exercises to help you learn and retain the information.
The course will most likely have end-of-section quizzes to test your knowledge. And at the end of the program, you'll take a final exam.
Once you pass the final exam, you’ll be issued a certificate that confirms you’ve successfully completed the formal instruction portion. You can present this certification to your employer in order to prove that you’ve already received operator training.
The pros and cons of online forklift training
Convenient: Access course materials on your computer, tablet, or smartphone
Less expensive: Buy online training for as little as $40
Self-paced: Complete in as little as an hour - or take as long as you like
Unlimited access: Get lifetime access to the course materials
Instant results: Generate a “certificate of completion” after you pass the final exam
No “hands-on” portion: Most online programs only have the classroom “theory” portion
Limited support: Have questions on the material? You may have to do your own research to get the answers
Where to find online forklift training programs
The easiest way to find these programs is simply by googling "forklift certification" or some version of that term. You can then sort through the different results, scan the pages, and see which one best suits your budget and situation.
In-person training is another popular way to get trained as a forklift operator.
Remember high school? Then you'll already be familiar with how this type of training works.
You'll likely listen to a lecture, view PowerPoint or projector presentations, watch videos, and have the opportunity to ask questions. You might also participate in group activities with other students.
Watch this short video to get a sense of what classroom operator training is like:
When you complete the in-class portion, you'll typically move on to the hands-on evaluations (the second "pillar"). That's where trainers will evaluate your skills and knowledge of best practices as you drive and operate an actual forklift.
The pros and cons of in-person classroom training
Personal attention: Get direct access to instructors who can tailor the teaching to your individual learning style
Interact with other students: Get a more well-rounded learning experience by studying alongside others
Hands-on training: Operate an actual forklift and get a real-life feel for it
More expensive: It costs more to conduct a classroom training course, so you’ll have to pay more
Less convenient: If you live in a smaller town, you may have to travel to get to the nearest training center
Not self-paced: Classes typically last for 4-8 hours, usually across 1-2 days
Where to find in-person forklift training programs
The main operators of in-person lift truck training schools are:
- Forklift dealerships
- Technical colleges
- Staffing agencies
Where you live and how far you’re willing to travel are the two biggest factors in deciding which option is best for you.
There’s a big advantage to going through a forklift dealership for training: You know you’re getting quality instruction from folks who know what they’re talking about.
To find them in your area, simply google “forklift dealership + your city.” So, if you live in Houston, TX, you’d search “forklift dealership houston” (without the quotes).
Then, it’s just a matter of browsing through the results and seeing if they offer training programs. If they do, they’ll usually have it listed under “Safety,” “Training,” or “Services”.
Check under the "Safety" or "Training" tabs of a forklift dealer's website for forklift certification training programs.
It can be a little tricky to determine whether or not your nearest tech school offers lift truck certification programs. The reason is that tech schools offer many different academic programs. So it can be like finding a needle in a haystack.
But here’s how we recommend going about it.
First, google “tech schools + your city” or “tech schools near me.”
Second, copy one of the resulting website’s URLs.
Third, in the Google search bar, type the following (but without the quotes): “site:url forklift.”
This search will return every mention of the word “forklift” that occurs on the website. If nothing comes up, then they probably don’t have a training program.
Of course, you can always give them a call and ask too 🙂
Some staffing agencies offer forklift training as part of a job-placement program with companies that frequently hire operators.
But, truthfully, this isn’t something that’s common. It’s more a matter of luck that an agency close to you will offer something like it.
Still, you can check and see what’s out there. Try googling “staffing agency + your location + forklift training” and see what comes up.
Some staffing agencies offer forklift training for applicants. But you'll have to do a little "googling" to find them.
Some employers will actually hire and train forklift operators without any prior driving experience.
The companies that do this are typically larger in size, and rely extensively on forklifts in their operations. So they can afford to have an internal forklift safety program, with safety officers who are authorized to train and certify operators.
Unfortunately, there's no shortcut to finding these companies. It's simply a matter of searching around for who's hiring. Those that do provide in-house training will usually say so in their hiring pages or job descriptions. In Chapter 6 below, we’ll cover a few methods for finding these companies.
Now that you know where you can get certified, let’s cover a couple questions you might still have.
Questions about forklift operator training programs
How long does it take to get a forklift certification?
If taking an online course, the "classroom" instruction portion can usually be completed in 1-3 hours.
If going the in-person route, most classes run 1-2 days. That typically includes anywhere from 4 to 8 hours of formal instruction, followed by the hands-on training and evaluation component. The hands-on portion can take as little as 15 to 20 minutes.
How much does a forklift license cost?
Online training (just the classroom portion) can run anywhere from $40 to $60. Courses that offer either online or in-person classroom instruction plus hands-on training can cost anywhere from $200 to $280.
How long is the training good for?
OSHA’s standard 1910.178(l)(4)(iii) specifies that forklift operators must be re-evaluated at least every 3 years.
But that’s not all there is to the rule. You’ll have to get re-evaluated, even if it’s within 3 years of your last evaluation, if one of the following events happens:
- You are involved in an accident or near-miss incident
- You are observed operating the lift unsafely
- There’s a deficiency in your evaluation
- You’ve been assigned a different type of forklift to operate
- Your employer makes changes to the workplace that could affect the safe operation of your truck
Now that you’re up to speed on everything that’s involved in getting your forklift driver license, let’s move on to what you can expect to learn when you go through an actual training course.
You already know from the first chapter of this post that OSHA requires some 22 different topics be covered in the formal instruction portion of training.
But what exactly will you be learning once you sign up for a training course?
Let’s go through 8 different topics that you’re likely to encounter. That way, you’ll know what you’re in for.
1. Employer & employee responsibilities
To maintain forklift safety in the workplace, there are some responsibilities that fall on you, the operator. But there are also some that fall on your employer.
So on that subject, you’ll learn:
- The 3 levels of workplace responsibility
- Your employer’s legal obligations
- Your rights and obligations as an employee
2. Working safely around pedestrians
Forklift certification is ultimately about being safe. Not only for you, the operator. But also anyone who works around you.
So to maintain safety, you'll cover:
- Best practices for interacting with pedestrians
- Who’s at fault in pedestrian-involved accidents
- How to secure a parked forklift to keep pedestrians safe
3. Conducting pre-trip inspections
OSHA's standard 1910.178(q)(7) states that forklifts must be inspected before being put into service.
That includes visually inspecting the truck for leaks and damage. And it also includes an operational check, while the lift is running.
You'll learn the ins and outs of what exactly goes into pre-trip inspections, including:
- The steps for visual and operational checks
- How to use a maintenance logbook
- What types of issues will prohibit you from operating your lift truck
- How to document and remedy any issues you find
4. Fuel sources
Depending on where you work, you may drive lifts powered by electricity, liquefied propane gas (LPG), compressed natural gas (CNG), gasoline, and/or diesel fuel. That said, electric and LPG-powered lifts are the most common ones you’ll encounter.
And to ensure that you work safely with these fuel sources, instruction will cover:
- The differences between electric and internal combustion (IC) forklifts
- How to charge and maintain a forklift battery
- How to inspect a propane tank’s condition
- How to change a propane tank
Forklifts are meant to lift things up and put them down. That much is obvious. But less obvious is how to tell the amount of weight your truck can safely lift.
In fact, there are a number of calculations that you must perform to determine the capacity of your fork truck. Don't worry though - it's pretty simple math.
Capacity topics should include:
- How to tell how much weight a forklift can lift
- How to determine how high you can lift a load
- Important definitions, like “load center” and “center of gravity”
- What a “data plate” is and how to read one
Once you understand how to calculate capacity, you'll need to learn what affects a forklift's stability.
Because although lift trucks have certain features designed to maximize their stability, they can still easily become unbalanced and tip over if precautions aren’t followed.
To avoid accidents and injuries from forklift instability, you'll learn:
- The most common causes of tip-overs and how to avoid them
- The “stability triangle” and what it means for maintaining stability
- Momentum and how it affects truck stability
7. Material handling basics
As a forklift operator, you may move all kinds of different materials around, depending on where you work. But not every load is created equal.
Nevertheless, there are some universal do's and don'ts when it comes to constructing loads, picking them up, transporting them, and placing them at their final destination.
To do so safely, you’ll learn:
- How to properly pick up a load, secure it, and place it in storage
- Basic driving safety
- When to use a spotter
- How to enter and exit a semi-truck trailer
8. Lift truck classifications
Since there are many different types of forklifts, you should have a basic familiarity with the most common ones you’ll encounter.
That's why you'll cover the 7 different classes of forklifts. You can learn more about that right now by checking our post called 105 Types of Forklifts: The Complete List. In it, we show examples of trucks that fall under the different classes.
Now that we've covered what you'll learn, let's discuss how you can ace the final exam when it comes time.
Before you can move on to the hands-on portion of training, you’ll have to pass a written test on the classroom learning portion.
That’s the same whether you go the online or in-person route.
And just like with any test, there are some best practices you should observe to maximize your chances of passing:
- Prepare by testing yourself. It’s one of the best ways to learn and retain new information
- Get plenty of sleep the night before (that means no “partying”!)
- Look over the test first - this will help you get a sense of the questions
- Read the instructions and each question carefully. It’s easy to get a question wrong simply because you missed a key detail in the instructions
- If you don’t remember the answer to a question, skip it and come back to it later
- Don’t rush! Take your time and be as thorough as possible
For more best practices to ensure you ace your test, check out Utah State University’s excellent resource on test taking tips.
Build your confidence with our forklift certification practice test
Practice makes perfect, right?
To help you learn the material and prepare for the final exam, we’ve put together a free 25-question forklift certification practice test.
Now, we’ve answered some of the questions in this post already. But for the most part, you probably won’t know the answers.
That’s okay. Because you’ll still get a feel for the range and difficulty of questions you can expect.
And regardless, you’ll be able to see the correct answers immediately after you hit “Submit.” There’s no downloading required. Plus, you can take the test as many times as you need until you get a perfect score!
Now that we’ve covered everything you need to know about getting trained and certified, let’s examine what you need to do to actually land a forklift operator job.
Part II: Landing a Job
You may have already done the research and decided that you definitely want to be a forklift driver. If that’s the case, feel free to skip this section.
But if you haven't, you might be wondering:
- What it's like to drive forklifts for a living
- How much money you’ll make
- Where you can find work
- And so on...
So, let’s paint a picture of “the operator’s life” so you can decide for yourself if it’s what you want to do.
What it’s like being a forklift operator
The job duties
According to Indeed.com, forklift operators perform the following job duties:
- Prepare products for shipment
- Inspect products for damage or missing components
- Place products and materials in appropriate storage locations
- Track inventory
- Communicate with shipping/receiving, truck drivers, co-workers, managers, vendors, and others in the supply chain
- Perform light forklift maintenance
To see some of these duties in action, check out this time-lapse video showing “a day in the life” of an actual, working forklift operator:
As you can see from the video, most of an operator’s job duties involve a high degree of independence.
Especially considering that these days, many companies use scanners paired with warehouse management systems (WMS) to tell you exactly what to do with the material you’re handling.
So, you won’t have to repeatedly ask your supervisor where to go or what to do next. Instead, you’ll rely on a computer to direct you throughout your shift.
And if that kind of freedom appeals to you, then a forklift operator job might be a great fit.
While the job duties above are pretty typical for forklift operators everywhere, the actual working conditions can vary greatly.
Depending on where you get a job, you may be working indoors, outdoors, or even a combination of both. Warehouses, for instance, will mostly involve indoor work. But lumber yards will be mostly outdoors, with some indoor work sprinkled in throughout your shift.
Depending on where you get hired, you might be driving forklifts indoors, outdoors, or a combination of both.
You may also be exposed to environmental hazards, like extreme heat (foundries), cold (cold storage and food processing plants), or even noxious fumes and corrosive substances (chemical plants).
The physical aspect
If you want to drive lift trucks for a living, you’ll likely have to cope with at least some level of physicality in the job.
Sometimes you'll have to move products by hand that are too small to be manipulated by your truck. Other times, you may have to climb ladders, manually move pallets, or stretch-wrap materials for shipping.
Most of the time, however, you'll be sitting in the driver’s seat. In fact, some operators report that they don't even leave their seat all day!
But don’t think that since you’re sitting down driving you’re free from physical exertion.
Don't underestimate the physical toll of operating a forklift all day long.
Because driving a forklift means making lots of turns and driving in reverse. So drivers have to repeatedly twist and contort their bodies to see where they’re going. Especially their necks and heads.
And those kinds of movements, combined with vibrations and other aspects of forklift operation, can cause some health problems.
Driving a forklift may be repetitive, but it’s anything but mindless work. It requires being alert at all times.
That’s because you're driving a machine that can weigh over 10,000 lbs. And one careless move can result in tragedy very quickly.
So it's crucial that you're always aware of your surroundings. That's the only way to avoid injuring yourself and pedestrians, or damaging property, equipment, and product.
And speaking of injury, you should be aware of all the risks to your own health. You can be crushed, fall off the lift, be hit by another driver, or suffer carbon monoxide poisoning, among other health risks for lift truck operators.
Forklift driver salary: How much you can expect to get paid
Starting a career as a forklift operator can be a great way to bump up your wage. Especially if you're transitioning from traditionally lower-paying jobs, like fast food and retail.
In recent years, companies have come to realize that there simply aren't as many lift truck operators as they need to meet demand. The result is that they've had to pay more to hire and retain drivers.
So then, what is the average forklift driver salary?
According to the most recent estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the average (national) wage of a fork truck operator is $18.24 per hour. That comes out to $37,930 per year.
But numbers alone don't tell the whole story. Besides for wage, things like health care coverage, retirement plans, sick leave, and vacation should also play a role in your decision.
Fortunately, most forklift operators have those benefits available to them.
You can see a much more detailed analysis of forklift operator compensation and benefits, based on what real operators report, by visiting Indeed.com's page.
So now you know what the job of an operator is really like.
But how do you actually get the job?
Let's go through the steps.
Most employers have the same basic requirements for forklift operators. These are:
- Ability to follow instructions
- Basic math skills (for tracking inventory)
- Good communication skills (verbal and written)
- Ability to lift 50 lbs. or more
Additionally, some employers require that you have a high school diploma or GED. But others don’t. If you fall into the latter category, check out GED.com. There, you’ll find everything you need to get your high school equivalency diploma and move forward with your new career.
Now, some jobs will have certain additional requirements unique to them.
For example, if you’re going to be working with certain specialized forklifts, like order pickers, you can’t be afraid of heights. That's because some order pickers can be raised up to 30' or more in the air!
If you'll be operating a forklift like this order picker, be sure you're not afraid of heights!
Another case could be “hybrid” jobs, where you’ll drive forklifts in addition to other duties. For instance, some warehousing jobs require you to pick and pack orders for shipping, stock shelves, manage inventory, etc. So the employer might require more advanced computer skills than they would for a strict forklift driving job.
That about covers the basics. But before we move on to the actual “how to” instructions for getting a job, let’s answer a couple of questions you might still have about job requirements.
Questions about forklift operator job requirements
Do you need to be certified before applying for a forklift job?
Let’s answer this question first according to a strict interpretation of the word “certified.” As you know, only your employer can certify you. So in that sense, the answer to this question is “no.”
But another way to look at the question is whether or not your prospective employer will want you to have forklift training before they hire you. In other words, will they want you to have gone through the kinds of online or in-person training courses we’ve covered in this post?
And the answer to that is it’s not always required - but it certainly won’t hurt.
That’s because completing the training up front shows that you’ve taken initiative. It shows that you care. It shows that you’re serious about getting the job. And it will separate you from the majority of applicants who won’t have done that.
And all those attributes can definitely help tip the scale in your favor.
Can you get a job as a forklift operator without experience?
It depends on the employer. Unsatisfying, we know.
It’s common that companies will want at least some general warehousing experience. But there are others who will hire and train candidates without any experience whatsoever.
If it’s a company that you really want to work for, you may want to try to get hired on the warehouse floor and work your way up to forklift operator.
Another option is to apply for a “hybrid” job, like we discussed. These tend to be more flexible with their driving experience requirements than jobs where you’ll only be driving a forklift. Then, once you’ve acquired that initial experience, you can move on to a strict driving job.
Finding opportunities and applying
Now that you understand the job requirements, the next steps are the same as they are for any other kind of job.
That is, you've got to get a resume together, find a place that's hiring, apply, and interview.
Some types of companies that hire forklift drivers are:
- Distribution centers
- Lumber yards
- Steel mills and metal recyclers
- Logistics companies
- Shipyards and ports
- Food processing plants
Not sure where to find these kinds of companies?
Well, an easy way to find them is by checking online. There are many different job sites, like Indeed, SnagAJob, and ZipRecruiter. Simply use their search feature and type in "forklift operator" or "forklift driver" and see what comes up.
Search for "forklift operator" or "forklift driver" on a job search website to find opportunities.
While you’re online, you can also look for staffing agencies. These companies will do the job search on your behalf, which takes a lot of the pressure off of you. Many will even help you put together a resume or check your existing one over for improvements.
Staffing agencies can help you find job opportunities.
You can also ask around. Do you have friends or family who work at companies that use forklifts? See if they'd be willing to put you in touch with the hiring department - and maybe even give you a recommendation!
Once you've got your choice of companies narrowed down, it's time to hit the "Send" or "Submit" button and apply for the job!
After that, it's just a matter of acing the interview. And here's an excellent resource on interview tips to help you land the job.
Wrapping It Up
There you have it: the complete guide to getting your forklift license.
Now we’d like to hear from you.
What surprised you most about what you learned?
Or maybe you have further questions?
Either way, let us know in the comments below!