Even with the advent of so-called ‘dark warehouses’ where all materials handling operations are totally automated, the market for forklift drivers or ‘operator’s is increasing due to:
- Increasing amounts of consumer goods being brought into the country
- Increases in manufacturing volume
- Consolidation of smaller enterprises into bigger ones that have better equipment and processes
- Improved awareness of health and safety law.
So, a forklift driver is a career path that remains viable.
While being a forklift driver doesn’t come with high pay, it is easy to get into, and often comes with flexible hours (either part-time/full-time, or shift work).
The four most important attributes of a forklift driver are:
- The right qualifications
- Spatial awareness
- Moderate level of physical fitness
Different countries have different requirements for forklift operators to be licenced and assessed. A forklift licence may take the form of:
- A certificate issued by a qualified or registered forklift trainer
- A workplace-issued certificate following a set of recommended or required tasks
- An endorsement or permit issued on a driver licence
- Additional qualifications for operating attachments or handling dangerous goods
To get a forklift qualification usually takes between one and three days, depending on your country or state requirements. The qualification may need to be renewed periodically. The level of learning is aimed at a low common denominator; you don’t have to be especially literate to achieve it.
Being diligent and conscientious as a forklift driver means ensuring that the right loads are loaded on or off the truck, a client’s goods are handled safely and carefully, and the forklift and the truck are treated with respect.
It also means being aware of safety. Forklifts cause a large number of injuries a year, both to their drivers and to unfortunate pedestrians who often work in close proximity with them. As even a small forklift can weigh in excess of 3000kg, they can create a lot of damage very quickly if the driver is careless.
Forklift operators could be lifting a 3.6-metre roll of carpet on a carpet pole, a hopper of grapes in a rotating bucket, a 6-metre-wide packet of wrapped timber, or a pallet of boxes of muesli. Forklifts themselves range from small units capable of lifting a tonne up to massive forklifts used on ports for lifting 40-foot containers.
This variety creates a wide disparity between the dimensions of the loads and the dimensions of the forklifts. Loads could be lifted up to 7 metres in the air, or the forklift operator may be operating in very narrow aisles between racking in a warehouse. In any case, spatial awareness helps the forklift operator pick up and place a load accurately, and navigate the forklift around obstacles.
Many forklift jobs require some level of physical strength and flexibility because the operator will be getting on and off the forklift to manage stock and break down pallets. The operating conditions can also be challenging. Many forklift drivers work in coolstores. Others work outside in orchards using off-road forklifts.
Forklift operators are frequently looking up at high racking, and spend a lot of time sitting, so neck and back issues would be made much worse.
As a forklift operator, you don’t need to be a gym junkie, but you do need to be able to make it through the day without your physical health being wrecked.
Being a forklift driver has a relatively low bar to entry and does provide some career progression options. Operators can work their way up into supervisory positions, and beyond in the logistics food chain, depending on their willingness to take on extra responsibilities and perhaps study more.