All About Forklift Operator Careers

SURESTAFF Blog Forklift Careers

All About Warehouse Forklift Operators and Career Opportunities Within Manufacturing and Distribution Center Warehouses

At SURESTAFF, we are dedicated to connecting quality employees with light industrial employers throughout the Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin areas.  SURESTAFF staffing agency offers numerous temp-to-hire, temporary and direct hire forklift operator warehouse job opportunities for people seeking to build upon existing skills or get certified to start a new and exciting career.  SURESTAFF offers some employers a value added benefit while providing a path to forklift certification for employees with forklift experience.

SURESTAFF serves manufacturing, warehouse, and distribution center customers, while empowering individuals to maximize basic skills in order to achieve long term career satisfaction.  Forklift operators work in a manufacturing environment and help transport and move heavy loads onto pallets in order to prepare products for loading and unloading or shipments.  There are several type of forklifts and forklift operator job opportunities within the light industrial sector.

What is a forklift operator and what type of forklift operators exist?

Selecting the right type of forklift is essential for completing a job with safety and efficiency in mind.  Forklifts are categorized into classes ranging from Class I to Class VII.  Class I forklift type vehicles are categorized as Class I Electric Motor Rider Trucks.  There are sub categories within these classes, however, we will only discuss the overarching classifications.  Class I trucks are characterized by full electric motor type forklifts that allow operators to sit-down within an enclosed cage like cabin.  Electric-powered forklifts are ideal for loading and unloading pallets, and a number of other applications in industries ranging from food storage and retail, to factory and general warehousing.

These forklifts are powered by an electric battery.   Class I forklifts are much quieter and create no emissions, an ideal choice for indoor applications. In order to help counterweight and maintain lifting capacity, batteries are placed strategically for this specific purpose.

Class II electric forklifts are designed for narrow aisles, maneuverability and an ability to operate in tight spaces.  Reach trucks and order pickers are examples of Class II forklifts.

The Class III electric forklifts encompass the electric pallet jacks, stackers and tow trucks.  There are rider and walker (walkie) type models.  This class of forklifts are used for unloading deliveries and moving loads to a staging area where other type of forklifts take over and handle the loads further.  Other examples include counter balance stacker forklifts, walkie reach truck forklifts, rider pallet jack forklifts, tow tractors, walkie stackers and industrial walkie stackers.

The Class IV forklifts have an internal combustion engine, and sit-down features.  These forklifts run on diesel or compressed natural gas.  Class IV forklifts are ideal for warehousing, distribution, retail and the automotive sectors.

Class V forklifts are the outdoor internal combustion engine and pneumatic tire forklifts used for outdoor purposes in lumberyards, construction sites and other outdoor areas.

Class VI forklifts are the tow tractor types and have both electric and internal combustion engines.  These are used at airports and assembly line settings.

Class VII forklifts are primarily diesel engine forklifts, used by lumberyards or construction sites to lift building materials.

What are the job roles associated with forklift operators?

Forklift warehouse operator associates are involved in the shipping and receiving of goods, engage in picking, pulling, and preparing orders for shipment while maintaining an organized area.  Process inbound and outbound shipments.   Load and unload pallets.  Scan items into inventory control systems.  Safely and efficiently use warehouse equipment including forklift, pallet jack, hydraulic jack, RF Scanner, computers, and handheld printers. Perform cleaning and maintenance duties as needed.

Forklift operator associates are responsible for operating material handling equipment for the purpose of receiving, moving, locating, relocating, and shipping merchandise.  Load and unload inbound and outbound shipments inside the facility.  Job functions involves the verifying the accuracy of quantity and quality of deliveries and shipments. Performs picking/packing duties in an efficient and safe manner while meeting customer service and time standards. Labeling every product and moving them accordingly within the distribution center. Handle returns by completing technical documentation and other required communication.  Keep all material handling equipment in the best condition by conducting regular maintenance.

What are the requirements for becoming a warehouse forklift operator?

Previous experience in production, manufacturing, assembling environments, and/or forklift experience is a plus. Forklift operators must have previous experience operating a forklift.  At least one-year experience in a warehouse environment is required.  High attention to detail and safety/compliance is mandatory.  While most entry-level warehouse positions do not have education requirements, a diploma/GED is usually needed to be considered for a forklift operator position.

What is the average salary for a warehouse forklift operator?

The average annual salary range is $40,164 – $59,820, depending on the position requirements and location of the job. Warehouse jobs in Chicago, for example, have a higher average pay rate because cost of living is higher than surrounding suburbs such as Aurora, DeKalb, Algonquin or Blue Island.

How is performance measured?

A warehouse manager will set specific and personal KPIs (key performance indicators) that will measure job performance such as the picked or delivered items per man/woman per hour, replenishment orders per man/woman per hour.  Volume received per man/woman per hour.  Time taken to process each order/goods/inventory or cycle time.  Accurate receipts percentage.  Receiving dock door utilization percentage and the cost of receiving per line.  These metrics are usually tracked in real time using an inventory control system so managers are able to access employee and team performance quickly.  Other performance measures include adherence to safety standards, attendance, and willingness to work as a team.

SURESTAFF’S career path/growth opportunities for warehouse forklift operators?

SURESTAFF offers select clients OSHA Forklift Certification for its employees.  This is a value added benefit offered to clients who have entered into a previous agreement.  This course encompasses safety training, driving techniques, maintenance and six to eight hours of lectures and videos.  Upon successful completion of the OSHA forklift certification requirements, candidates will need to take a written exam.   The successful completion of the exam will help facilitate an official certification as a Forklift Operator that is valid only for a particular type of forklift and work site. Forklift Certifications do not transfer from a work area to another, nor is it valid on other type of forklifts other than the one trained on and tested on.  Therefore, once an employee leaves a facility where he/she has been certified, candidates need to retake the certification for each job/forklift they operate.

Warehouse and distribution center forklift operator opportunities can be a path to growth and new career opportunities.  Training and certifications through entry-level positions can lead to a managerial role.  A warehouse forklift associate entry level opportunity can transform into a bigger role within a warehouse/distribution center.  Forklift operators are essential to the supply chain management and help track products, monitor inventory and manage warehouse/distribution center deliveries.

Certifications may help propel an entry level associate to a warehouse managerial position.  In many cases, warehouse managers need certifications to operate heavy equipment like forklifts and aerial lifts. Certification accreditation requires a combination of a written exam and a practical test. Many employers provide these certification programs regularly and it helps to inquire about the possibilities.

Forklift job trends 2021 outlook geared towards improving safety

According to, “The global Forklift market is anticipated to rise at a considerable rate during the forecast period, between 2021 and 2026.  In 2021, the market was growing at a steady rate and with the rising adoption of strategies by key players, the market is expected to rise over the projected horizon.”  According to, the top three USA forklift manufacturers of 2020 are Caterpillar, Yale Materials Handling Corporation and Clark.

How to find forklift warehouse jobs and what you will need to be become a forklift warehouse associate

  • Previous warehouse experience and/or training preferred.
  • High attention to detail and safety/compliance.
  • Demonstrate good communication skills, problem-solving skills, and sound judgement.
  • Ability to work overtime as needed.

For job opportunities in light industrial, warehouse, or distribution center, please contact one of our locations in Illinois, Indiana or Wisconsin or call 1-833-SURE-WORK.