Forklift Operator Job Description - Requirements, Skills and Duties
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What Does a Forklift Operator Do?
A forklift operator is a person responsible for moving and transporting goods and materials using a forklift truck.
A forklift truck is a small vehicle designed for material handling that is commonly used in logistics and manufacturing environments.
Forklifts are fitted with two forks that can be manipulated by the operator to raise and lower, move and place goods packed on pallets or in bins or crates. A wide range of forklifts and other material handling equipment exists. These can be classified based on power source (generally electric, petrol or diesel, although the use of ‘hand-powered’ forklifts known as pallet jacks are also quite common); on fork position, which can be front-loading (i.e. with forks mounted on the front), side-loading or featuring a turret truck design, with forks mounted on a mast that can rotate through 180 degrees); or on the type of mast or boom, e.g. reach trucks with retractable masts or telehandlers featuring a telescopic boom.
Good forklift operators are able to manoeuvre their vehicles with skill and precision to rapidly and efficiently perform material handling operations such as loading, unloading, lifting, transporting, placing and stacking goods and materials in warehouses, storage deposits, manufacturing plants, at docks, building sites and other locations.
Forklift operators employed in warehouses are responsible for picking goods in accordance with the quantities and specifications indicated in shipping orders, checking their condition and loading them onto the carrier. They are also responsible for unloading and sorting incoming goods arriving by van, truck, ship or aircraft - i.e. using the forklift to unload and transport them to the appropriate storage area indicated by the warehouse manager.
In addition to being employed in warehouses, forklift operators also work in manufacturing and production plants, where they are responsible for supplying materials to automatic production lines, monitoring production line operations and inspecting and removing finished goods.
When transporting materials within warehouse and storage spaces and carrying out loading and unloading operations, forklift operators are required to follow designated routes that are planned to be as quick and as safe as possible. They are also responsible for ensuring that the loads they transport are not damaged during handling operations.
Additional duties of a forklift operator include stocktaking operations and administrative tasks related to goods entering and leaving the warehouse or storage area. To track the movements of materials and check stocks, forklift operators use scanners, barcode readers, warehouse management software, as well as other digital equipment and systems.
Forklift operators may also be required to perform minor maintenance tasks on forklift vehicles.
Since forklifts are a vital component in the daily material handling and logistics operations of warehouses of all shapes and types, there is a high demand for qualified forklift operators.
The working day of a forklift operator is typically organized in two or three shifts to ensure full schedule coverage. They may also be required to work nights and overtime.
The work of a forklift operator involves a number of health and safety risks for the operator and other people. For example, forklifts may experience a loss of stability, leading to the vehicle overturning and provoking accidents and even serious injury. Workers are therefore required to use the appropriate personal protective equipment (e.g. safety boots and gloves) and ensure that they observe the applicable health and safety regulations at all times.
Duties and Responsibilities
A forklift operator’s main tasks include:
- Performing material handling operations using forklift trucks
- Carry out loading and unloading operations using forklift trucks
- Preparing materials for loading operations
- Placing materials in warehouse storage areas in accordance with instructions
- Checking condition of materials during loading, unloading and handling operations
- Completing and updating documentation relating to goods in storage and in transit
- Carrying out stocktaking operations
- Performing minor maintenance operations on forklifts
Forklift Operator - Requirements and Training
Unsurprisingly, the key requirement to become a forklift operator is the ability to drive a forklift truck safely and efficiently. In many countries, forklift operators are required to obtain a licence entitling them to legally drive forklift trucks (forklift license) and to pass an examination (e.g. eyesight and drug test) showing that they are in good mental and physical health. Another crucial requirement is a clear understanding of the risks involved with driving a forklift truck and familiarity with the applicable safety procedures. Aspiring forklift drivers can gain the practical experience and theoretical knowledge required to enter the profession by attending a training course for forklift operators.
Finally, forklift operators should possess the basic IT skills required to operate a computer and use warehouse management applications. Prior experience in a logistics role involving goods acceptance, storage, picking, shipping and distribution also constitutes an advantage.
Forklift Operator Skills and Qualifications
A good forklift operator should have the following skills:
- Ability to drive forklift trucks (forklift licence holder)
- Knowledge of the safety procedures regarding the use of forklift trucks
- Knowledge of warehouse management applications
- Willingness to work shifts / flexible hours
- Reliability and professionalism
- Good interpersonal skills
Career Path and What to Expect
The position of forklift operator can be a first stepping stone to a career in logistics or manufacturing. Possibilities include becoming a warehouse worker, logistics coordinator, or production worker and from there progressing to warehouse manager, logistics manager or production manager, dealing with assignments of an increasingly complex and challenging nature. Another option is moving on to a coordinating role as a shift manager.
Forklift operators may also pursue a career in maintenance. With the right mechanical and electrical skills, a forklift operator can specialize in the maintenance of warehouse machinery and equipment as a forklift maintenance technician.
Top Reasons to Work as a Forklift Operator
In view of the low entry requirements, a job as a forklift operator may be an important first step for somebody looking for a career in the warehouse or manufacturing sector.
Job vacancies for forklift operators are numerous and widespread, meaning aspiring forklift drivers should have no trouble finding employment close to home.
Forklift operators are not generally required to travel for their work and, although there may be periods in which the workload is higher, it is not generally speaking a stressful job.