Posted On: December 2, 2021

Forklift Operator Salary: How Much Do Forklift Drivers Make?

What Does a Forklift Driver Do?

Forklift operators use powered industrial trucks (also known as forklifts or lift trucks) to transport heavy materials around facilities like warehouses, factories, storage sites, or construction sites.

The typical forklift operator job description includes tasks like:

  • Moving, stacking, and organizing heavy merchandise or materials
  • Pulling inventory and preparing it for shipment
  • Inspecting product shipments for damaged or missing items
  • Loading and unloading shipment trucks and other vessels
  • Tracking inventory and accurately counting sent or received items
  • Performing basic equipment maintenance including regular inspections and lubrication
  • Reporting equipment malfunctions to supervisors
  • Adhering to OSHA and other safety and health standards to ensure a safe work environment

Forklift driver jobs are in demand across a number of industries, including shipping, warehousing, manufacturing, construction, retail, and food service.

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How Old Must You Be to Operate a Forklift?

Under the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, it's illegal to operate a powered industrial truck before the age of 18, though there may be some exceptions for forklifts in agricultural operations.

In non-agricultural operations, it's also illegal for minors to "tend," ride upon, work from, repair, service, or disassemble forklifts. "Tending" includes any activity that assists in the hoisting tasks performed by the equipment, including acting as a spotter by providing signals or cues to the operator.

How Much Do Forklift Drivers Make?

When collecting job statistics, the U.S. Department of Labor lumps forklift operators in with the operators of all "industrial trucks or tractors equipped to move materials around a warehouse, storage yard, factory, construction site, or similar location."  

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median wage for that group of jobs is $18.06 an hour or $37,560 a year.

Websites that collect data on forklift operators alone tend to come up with a lower average. Indeed estimates an average forklift driver salary of $16.12 an hour or $37,609 a year based on over 130,000 salary reports. Glassdoor lists the average forklift operator salary as $33,559 a year based on over 7,000 salary reports. Payscale reports an average of $15.18 a year or $35,612 a year based on just over 2,000 salary reports. Zippia's estimate is the lowest median wage at $13.70 an hour or $28,486 a year.

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Forklift Driver Salaries for All 50 States

Sources agree that Alaska, Minnesota, Wyoming, and North Dakota are all top-paying states for forklift operators. Generally speaking, states in the Southeast U.S. have the lowest average forklift driver salary.

According to the BLS, here is the average salary per state for forklift operators and similar professionals:

State

Hourly Median

Yearly Median

Alabama

$16.20

$33,700

Alaska

$27.24

$56,660

Arizona

$17.70

$36,820

Arkansas

$16.72

$34,770

California

$18.50

$38,480

Colorado

$19.05

$39,610

Connecticut

$17.32

$36,030

Delaware

$18.44

$38,350

District of Columbia

$28.17

$58,600

Florida

$17.95

$37,340

Georgia

$17.24

$35,860

Hawaii

no data

no data

Idaho

$18.13

$37,710

Illinois

$18.20

$37,860

Indiana

$17.66

$36,740

Iowa

$18.93

$39,360

Kansas

$18.62

$38,740

Kentucky

$17.82

$37,070

Louisiana

$18.23

$37,910

Maine

$17.91

$37,260

Maryland

$20.19

$41,990

Massachusetts

$19.14

$39,820

Michigan

$17.95

$37,340

Minnesota

$20.48

$42,600

Mississippi

$15.92

$33,110

Missouri

$18.51

$38,500

Montana

$18.34

$38,150

Nebraska

$17.90

$37,230

Nevada

$19.94

$41,470

New Hampshire

$20.70

$43,050

New Jersey

$18.21

$37,870

New Mexico

$17.03

$35,420

New York

$19.68

$40,930

North Carolina

$16.81

$34,960

North Dakota

$21.14

$43,970

Ohio

$18.13

$37,700

Oklahoma

$17.58

$36,560

Oregon

$19.61

$40,780

Pennsylvania

$18.45

$38,370

Rhode Island

$19.72

$41,020

South Carolina

$16.55

$34,430

South Dakota

$17.63

$36,680

Tennessee

$16.52

$34,370

Texas

$17.05

$35,470

Utah

$19.42

$40,400

Vermont

$18.74

$38,970

Virginia

$18.42

$38,320

Washington

$19.25

$40,040

West Virginia

$17.45

$36,290

Wisconsin

$19.38

$40,320

Wyoming

$22.09

$45,940

How to Become a Forklift Driver

Driving a forklift has a low entry barrier – it's possible to get a forklift operator job without prior training or experience. However, you do need specific training and certification before you can begin the work.

What Qualifications Do Forklift Drivers Need?

Common qualifications for forklift operators include:

  • A high school diploma or the equivalent (preferred)
  • Valid forklift license/certification
  • Able to stand, sit, move, squat, walk, and climb repeatedly during a shift
  • Capable of lifting up to 50 pounds
  • A valid driver's license

What Experience Do You Need Before Driving a Forklift?

You can become a forklift operator without direct experience, but employers tend to prefer candidates that have experience in the industry.

So, for example, if you're applying to operate powered industrial trucks in a warehouse, it helps if you have warehouse experience. You'll be familiar with packing, stocking, loading and unloading, inventory tracking, activity logs, and other related tasks.

You'll have an even better leg up if you have experience working with heavy machinery or related equipment like a pallet jack.

How Do You Get Forklift Certification?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires forklift operators to be trained and certified before operating a machine.

There are two steps to becoming a certified forklift driver: passing an OSHA-compliant course and completing hands-on training.

Conveniently, courses can be taken online – just make sure you sign up with a legitimate OSHA-authorized training provider and that the course applies to the kind of forklift you'll be operating. There are separate certifications for stand-up forklifts, sit-down forklifts, and aerial/boom/scissor lifts.

Once you pass the course with 75% or greater on the course exam, you'll get a certificate of completion that you can show your employer.

Hands-on training comes next. Most employers will provide hands-on training in the workplace, but some candidates prefer to get training at a community college or vocational school before applying to jobs. This can increase your chance of employment in a tough market, but it may not be necessary where you live. It's a good idea to ask around and see what people in your area recommend.

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Our courses also satisfy compliance requirements and get you job-ready in just two hours from anywhere you have an internet connection.

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