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What does a forklift driver do?
Forklift drivers are also known as forklift truck drivers or forklift operators. They operate various forklift trucks and use associated accessories to unload, load, transport, lift and lower goods that workers cannot move by hand due to their weight and size. It enables them to transport heavier loads and goods around the premises more quickly and efficiently.
Forklift drivers can work in many indoor and outdoor settings, such as construction sites, warehouses, industrial sites, airports, ports, yards, builder’s merchants, factories, manufacturing facilities, garden centres, DIY stores and distribution centres. They can also drive different models and makes of forklift trucks and transport various goods. Therefore, what they do will depend on where they work and their specialisms.
A forklift driver aims to use trucks safely, correctly and efficiently while moving goods around and between different locations. They must also ensure the goods loaded, unloaded, carried and stored are kept intact and free from damage. Overall, they have significant responsibility, as they must keep themselves and others safe when operating forklift trucks and moving goods around the premises.
Forklift drivers will carry out many tasks, including carrying out daily safety checks, manually handling goods, stacking goods onto pallets, transporting goods, lifting and moving pallets, lifting and lowering goods from racking, correctly storing goods, picking and packing orders, using radio frequency equipment, keeping the work area clean and tidy, carrying out basic maintenance, etc. The role also requires forklift drivers to complete paperwork and keep records.
Forklift drivers will be in the cab of their forklift trucks for most of their working days. However, they will also work and liaise with various people. For example, a forklift driver working in a warehouse may work with warehouse managers, supervisors, team leaders, other forklift drivers, warehouse operators, quality controllers, administrators, delivery drivers, suppliers, etc.
A forklift driver can work for different-sized organisations, from large distribution and transport companies to small garden centres and builder’s merchants. They usually work full-time in permanent positions, but there are opportunities for part-time work and temporary contracts for some.
A forklift driver’s responsibilities will depend on the type of forklift trucks they operate, where they work and their role.
Some examples of their day-to-day duties can include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Adhering to health and safety and forklift operating procedures.
- Carrying out daily safety checks on forklift trucks, equipment and accessories.
- Checking for any obstructions on routes and removing them and other hazards.
- Manually handle goods where required.
- Moving goods around the premises and manoeuvring safely with forklift trucks to the required locations.
- Lifting and moving pallets using forklift trucks.
- Safely stacking goods onto pallets and ensuring they are secure.
- Unstacking goods from pallets.
- Unloading goods from, and loading goods into, large goods vehicles, aircraft and ships.
- Lifting goods into racking and lowering them from storage.
- Storing goods in the correct storage bays.
- Picking and packing orders.
- Speaking to other staff using radio frequency equipment.
- Keeping their working environment clean and tidy, e.g. general housekeeping duties.
- Carrying out basic maintenance on forklift trucks.
- Conducting quality checks on goods.
- Keeping track of stock and inventory.
- Completing paperwork and keeping records, e.g. stock control and delivery notes.
- Assisting with other duties, where required, e.g. packaging, labelling and shipping in a warehouse.
A forklift driver can expect to work 44-46 hours a week, but they can do more or fewer hours depending on their role. Most roles are permanent and full-time, but there may be opportunities to work flexible hours, such as part-time or job share.
Being a forklift driver is not a 9-5 job, as many roles are shift based. Therefore, those looking at entering this profession must be committed to working unsociable hours, e.g. early mornings, evenings, nights, weekends and bank holidays. They must be able to concentrate at all times, even on night shifts.
Forklift drivers tend to work at a single workplace. However, there may be roles where they may need to travel to different sites, e.g. construction work, which can lengthen the working day. Overseas opportunities are rare but may be available to some.
What to expect
There are many positives to being a forklift driver, especially if individuals are practical and enjoy operating machinery and driving for most of the day. The role would suit less academic individuals, as it does not require formal qualifications or a driving licence. However, they will need a forklift certificate (sometimes called a licence) and pass training and tests.
Individuals can become forklift drivers relatively quickly, so long as they can operate them safely and correctly and get their certificates. Most courses are less than a week and not as expensive as other types of training. However, individuals must complete on-the-job training and work under supervision to become competent.
The job can be rewarding, as forklift drivers have an important role in ensuring various goods are undamaged and that customers and clients receive their goods intact and are happy. They can go home at the end of the working day knowing their job makes a positive difference, especially when goods are high-valued items or essentials for people.
Forklift drivers spend a chunk of their time in a forklift cab. Even though they interact with colleagues and external stakeholders, it is, in most cases, minimal. Therefore, it can suit individuals on the more introverted side.
There is no shortage of forklift driver roles, drivers are in demand, and there are various industries in which to work. There are plenty of jobs across the UK, and the salary is competitive, especially with more experience.
Boredom will never be a problem, as the role allows individuals to operate forklift trucks around the premises, move different loads and do other tasks, which keeps them busy. They will also briefly interact with various people during their working day, which can be interesting.
Even though there are positives to being a forklift driver, there are challenges and cons, e.g. (this list is not exhaustive):
- It’s dangerous – operating a forklift truck is not a role for those who are not safety conscious or untrained, as this heavy equipment is hazardous in the workplace. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), lift trucks are involved in about a quarter of all workplace transport accidents. In this job, numerous health and safety risks exist, including falling objects and hazardous loads, which individuals must bear in mind.
- A lot of responsibility – forklift drivers have a lot of responsibility. They can injure themselves and others at work when operating a forklift truck. They can also damage buildings, stock and equipment if they are incompetent, make mistakes or drive carelessly. There has been a case where a warehouse full of racking and goods collapsed due to a forklift accident.
- Physical demands – being a forklift driver can be physically demanding, and it is a fast-paced, busy role, and there may be a requirement to work different shifts. Forklift drivers may be involved with manual handling, e.g. stacking pallets and loading/unloading goods. Also, individuals must concentrate as they navigate between obstructions and often people. Intense concentration while driving a forklift can cause fatigue.
- Mental demands – forklift drivers can get extremely busy during their working day. They will have to meet targets and deadlines and can hold up deliveries, production and other activities if they miss them, which can be stressful. Also, the level of responsibility can be mentally demanding.
- Male-dominated role – the number of women forklift drivers is relatively low. However, it should not put off women who want to enter the profession, as the numbers are increasing.
- Protective clothing – some forklift drivers wear personal protective equipment (PPE) during their working day, which can get hot and uncomfortable.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and individuals must know what to expect before deciding whether it is suitable. It is dangerous, physically and mentally demanding, and there is significant responsibility. The role is also male dominated. However, there are many positives too, and individuals who become forklift drivers enjoy driving around the premises all day and being practical.
When considering whether to be a forklift driver, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the right personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a forklift driver
Some of the personal qualities a forklift driver requires will include (this list is not exhaustive:
- Safety conscious.
- Responsible, reliable, confident, assertive, calm and determined.
- A good level of physical fitness.
- Excellent spatial awareness.
- Knowledge of health and safety.
- Knowledge of forklift operations and procedures.
- Knowledge of public safety and security.
- Excellent concentration skills.
- Excellent coordination and estimation skills.
- Practical skills.
- Communication skills, both written and verbal.
- Organisational and time management skills.
- Maths skills.
- Good movement and dexterity.
- Being thorough, accurate and having attention to detail.
- The ability to manually handle heavy loads.
- The ability to operate forklift trucks and associated equipment.
- The ability to listen and follow instructions.
- The ability to spot hazards and avoid dangerous situations.
- The ability to carry out basic repairs and maintenance.
- The ability to focus for long periods.
- The ability to work well with others in a team and alone using their own initiative.
- The ability to work in a fast-paced environment and meet tight deadlines.
- The ability to work well under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to be flexible and adapt to change.
- The ability to use IT and software packages for basic tasks, e.g. hand-held scanners and computers.
There are many different routes to becoming a forklift driver. Individuals could go to college, enrol on a course with a private training provider, apply for an apprenticeship or apply directly. They could also do work experience to help them enter the role.
Individuals can become forklift drivers by undertaking a college course, such as the Level 2 Award or Certificate in Forklift Truck Operations. They usually need two or more GCSEs grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) or equivalent for a Level 2 course.
Numerous private training companies offer forklift truck courses, which differ in quality, cost, entry requirements and duration. It is better to choose accredited companies (e.g. RTITB and ITSSAR), as they will adhere to the correct training standards. The HSE has further information on lift-truck training here.
It may also be worth doing low-cost online courses to gain theoretical knowledge of forklift driving and see if it would be a suitable career choice. That way, if not, it will save an individual a lot of time and trouble.
Courses and qualifications do not guarantee a role as a forklift driver, but a certificate is necessary for most jobs. Always check the entry requirements before applying for courses.
There is an apprenticeship route to help individuals become forklift drivers, e.g. supply chain warehouse operative intermediate apprenticeship. Individuals usually need some GCSEs, including English and maths, or equivalent.
Opportunities are on Government’s Apprenticeships, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Indeed. There is also the National Forklift Truck Apprenticeship Scheme.
Employers may also advertise forklift driver apprenticeships on most job websites.
Individuals can also apply directly to companies for jobs which they usually advertise on their websites or job sites. The skills and experience required will depend on each employer, but most require some GCSEs, including English and maths, and may also ask for a valid forklift certificate.
Some employers may give individuals forklift truck training after starting work if they have relevant experience, e.g. construction, warehouse or transport work.
Relevant paid or voluntary work experience can help individuals become forklift drivers.
To gain the necessary skills and experience they could (this list is not exhaustive):
- Get plenty of practical experience driving; even car driving or driving experience days can help.
- Apply for a warehouse assistant or operative job, which involves loading and unloading goods and materials.
- Apply for a job as a labourer or worker on construction or building sites.
- Work or volunteer at a workplace with forklift trucks, shadow experienced drivers and ask them for advice.
- Do their own research to understand how forklift trucks work before training.
A forklift truck certificate is essential for those wanting to become forklift drivers. However, learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training companies can provide relevant training courses.
We offer various approved courses that may be useful for forklift drivers, for example (this list is not exhaustive):
- Health and safety for employees.
- COSHH awareness.
- Fire safety awareness.
- Assessing risk.
- Warehouse safety.
- Manual handling.
- Workplace stress.
- PUWER awareness.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Spill management, i.e. for fuel trucks.
- Workplace first aid.
- COVID-19 awareness.
- Time management.
- Customer service skills.
Professional/accredited bodies, schemes, unions and associations, such as the ITSSAR, RTITB, iTRUK, UK Material Handling Association (UKMHA), NPORS, Lantra, Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), URTU, the Accrediting Bodies Association for Workplace Transport (ABA), and others, can also advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide events and support to help individuals become forklift drivers and give those already in the profession the means to continue their professional development.
The training required will depend on what employers are looking for and the type of forklift driving role an individual wants. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training needed for specific roles and specialisms. Jobs are on websites such as GOV.UK Find a Job Service, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, other sites, and company careers websites. Recruitment agencies may also offer forklift driver jobs for those already with a certificate.
More relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge) will open up more opportunities.
The HSE recommend forklift drivers have regular refresher training. Although there is no specific time period, it is usual for individuals to undertake refresher training after 3-5 years to remain competent.
Refresher training keeps an individual’s knowledge and skills up to date.
If a forklift driver wants to work on a construction site, they usually need a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card.
Where do forklift drivers work?
Forklift drivers can work in various industries and workplace types. Some examples include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Warehouses (most common workplace).
- Construction and building sites.
- Agricultural sites.
- Shipping yards and docks.
- Rail terminals.
- Garden centres.
- Recycling facilities.
- Large retailers, e.g. supermarkets and DIY stores.
- Distribution centres.
- Manufacturing facilities.
- Builders and timber yards and merchants.
- Event venues and attractions.
Some forklift drivers work outside, inside or both.
They can work for different employers or recruitment agencies.
How much do forklift drivers earn?
What a forklift driver earns will depend on the following:
- The type of forklift they operate.
- Their training and experience.
- Their industry.
- Whether they are employed or work as an agency forklift driver.
- The goods they handle.
- The hours they work and types of shifts, e.g. nights.
- Their geographical location.
Some examples of average salaries for forklift drivers are as follows:
- £9.78 per hour (Payscale).
- £12.27 per hour (Indeed UK).
- £17,000 starter to £30,000 experienced a year (National Careers Service).
- £23,073 a year (Glassdoor).
- £23,795.50 a year or £11.44 per hour (Check-a-Salary).
- £25,849 a year (Reed).
As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.
Types of forklift driving to specialise in
As mentioned, forklift drivers can work in various industries and may choose to specialise in working in specific settings, for example:
Warehouse forklift driver
- Working indoors in warehouses and storage facilities, but may drive outdoors where required.
- These settings typically have tall racking where palletised goods are stored at varying heights.
- Forklift drivers operate the machine between racking and load/unload goods on pallets into bays.
- They can also remove goods from lorries or load them onto delivery trucks.
Construction site forklift driver
- Working on construction sites outdoors.
- Individuals will drive a forklift truck capable of driving over rough terrain.
- They will usually be required to transport heavy materials around the site and lift loads to various heights.
- They may also use attachments on the forklift, such as crane arms and lifting hooks.
- They will usually need a CSCS card.
Food manufacturing forklift driver
- Working indoors in food manufacturing facilities.
- Individuals will often operate a counterbalance forklift truck in these settings.
- They will take in deliveries of raw materials and ingredients and transport them to production. They may also move finished products to bays and trucks for deliveries.
- They must follow good hygiene practices and have additional food hygiene and safety knowledge.
- Some can work in extreme temperatures, e.g. chilled and frozen food manufacturing.
There are also various types of forklift trucks they can specialise in driving, for example (this list is not exhaustive):
- Counterbalance forklift trucks – a commonly used forklift often used in warehouses, yards, retail settings and factories. It has a rear-weighted counterbalance to counter the weight of loads and two forks at the front.
- Telescopic forklift trucks – typically used outdoors where the terrain is rough, e.g. construction, agricultural and industrial sites, as they have robust tyres. These forklifts have telescopic arms that lift pallets and other materials to higher heights. Various attachments can be used on these machines, e.g. platforms, crane arms and multi-functional fork carriages.
- Reach forklift trucks – predominately used in warehouses with minimal space and narrow aisles between high racking and shelving. These forklifts have extendable forks to reach high-rise pallet storage.
- Side loaders – commonly used in timber yards, wood processing and furniture manufacturing to handle long loads. These trucks can load and unload goods from the side.
- Rough terrain forklift trucks – typically used outdoors for uneven surfaces, as they have rugged tyres. They are often used in construction, agriculture and yards.
Forklift trucks can also be diesel, gas or electrically powered, requiring different checks and basic maintenance.
Various forklift driving roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. All forklift drivers must have a forklift certificate. They must also have excellent driving, coordination and estimation skills, fantastic spatial awareness and safety consciousness.
Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what an organisation is looking for and the type of forklift role an individual wants. Further training may be necessary for some jobs, e.g. CSCS card to work on construction sites. There is also a requirement for additional certifications to drive certain types of forklift trucks.
Forklift drivers not competently carrying out their roles can have serious consequences. Many severe injuries and even fatalities have occurred because of overloading and overturning of the equipment and collisions between people, other vehicles and structures in and around buildings.
Poor forklift driving can also damage infrastructure, equipment and goods, which can be costly for businesses and may result in a driver losing their job. Therefore, whatever the type of role, forklift drivers must have the necessary training and competence to carry out their work professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency, i.e. asking for help when something is beyond their expertise.
Forklift trucks, equipment, laws, technologies and standards are regularly changing. Therefore, forklift drivers must keep ahead of the latest developments and changes to carry out their roles effectively, safely and correctly. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives forklift drivers the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes, understand their responsibilities, be legally compliant and progress in their careers.
Joining a professional/accredited body, scheme, union, or association can help individuals enhance their skills and overall career. These offer different levels of membership, CPD, support, access to industry contacts and networking events.
There is ample opportunity for career progression for forklift drivers. With more training and experience, they can learn to operate different types of forklift trucks or specialise in a specific industry, such as construction. They could also become warehouse managers, shift supervisors or team leaders. Alternatively, they may move to a forklift instructor or maintenance role.
Knowledge, skills and experience from being a forklift driver can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, they could use their driving skills and do additional training to operate other plant types, such as dumper trucks, cherry pickers, cranes or tractors. They could also train as a lorry or bus driver.
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