Fork lift drivers play a crucial role in the smooth running of depots, warehouses, yards and ports/airports, their main role being to transport often heavy goods to and from difficult to reach places. Without these workers production at a whole host of industries would decrease considerably.
Forklift drivers are required to load and unload deliveries of stock and to transport the goods to the next stage of their journey. Generally this will either be to a warehouse or other large storage facility to be put away or given to colleagues who work in the next stage of production e.g. packing. There is a large emphasis on teamwork as forklift drivers often provide the all important link between one group of workers and another.
New starters will generally earn around £11,000 and not much more than £13,500 a year but there is plenty of room for progression in forklift driving and more experienced workers can earn up to £21,000.
If you do wish to top up any earnings then, regardless of experience, there are often night shifts and overtime hours available in this sort of job. With depots, warehouses and transport links open all hours to keep production high there are nearly always opportunities to earn some extra money.
- Loading and unloading goods from deliveries. These could be made by numerous means including lorry, boat and aeroplane.
- Storing goods in often difficult to reach areas of warehouses, depots etc.
- Checking the trucks are in good working order and making sure any loads are safe and secure.
- Transporting goods to and from other workers on the production line e.g. packers.
- Tidying and stacking empty pallets
- Performing other related tasks which could involve using specialist equipment such as pump trucks, telescopic handlers and counter-balance trucks.
Although forklift drivers do not need to possess any academic qualifications, all drivers must complete an approved forklift training course. The course will generally take between 3 and 5 days to complete and includes aspects of theory as well as practical exercises. If you will be required to operate a forklift truck on a public road then you will also need a valid driving license, although for most jobs this will not be a requirement.
The minimum age to undertake a training course is 16 and the following training organisations are approved by the Health and Safety Commission:
- the Association of Industrial Truck Trainers (AITT)
- Lantra Awards
- National Plant Operators Registration Scheme (NPORS) Ltd
- the Road Transport Industry Training Board (RTITB) Ltd
- the Independent Training Standards Scheme and Register (ITSSAR).
- Concentration – A high level of concentration is probably the most crucial skill a forklift driver needs to possess due to the potentially dangerous nature of the work.
- Discipline – Drivers should be disciplined enough to follow the strict health and safety rules that are in place.
- Organisation – Good preparation and organisational skills are very useful particularly when working in adverse conditions.
- Maths – Academic skills are not hugely important in this line of work but some basic maths skills would help when working out weights and distances.
- Adaptability – Forklifts are normally not the only equipment an employee will have to use and so drivers need to be adaptable enough to use a wide array of machines. These can range from standard pump trucks to more complicated vehicles such as counter-balances and side-loading trucks
- Teamwork – Virtually all jobs require teamwork but few more so than forklift drivers. Due to the nature of the role, drivers will need to work closely with numerous types of employee from their own company as well as people working on behalf of other employers such as lorry drivers. Good teamwork and communication skills are also important when working with other forklift drivers so as to work together as safely and effectively as possible.
As with any labour orientated job, working conditions can be quite difficult and all forklift drivers have to wear health and safety equipment at all times. This includes but is not restricted to a hard hat, high visibility clothing and shoes with steel toe caps.
As the role may require outside work or work in hostile indoor areas such as cold stores, drivers should be prepared mentally and physically to work in adverse conditions and also be capable of maintaining a high degree of concentration at all times. Warehouses and depots can be very busy places and it is imperative that forklift drivers are aware of their surroundings so as to avoid colliding into any goods, or worse, people. Drivers often have to transport heavy and dangerous goods and so there is a lot of responsibility on the employee to take good care of their cargo.
Typical hours for a full-time driver would be between 37 and 45 a week with shift work just as common as more regular working hours. People of both sexes are prominent in forklift driving although male drivers do tend to outnumber females, perhaps due to typical forklift working environments being traditionally male dominated.
The majority of employers will take on a forklift driver with no previous experience providing he is in possession of a valid licence or is happy to commit to a training course. However, as with any job, previous experience of the role would be helpful, particularly if you are applying for a job in one of the more dangerous working environments such as an airport.
There is always a high demand for forklift drivers due to the amount of companies that require their services. Just about every warehouse and depot requires at least one as do airports, ports and plenty of other industrial settings. This means jobs may be available at anywhere from the local ASDA to Heathrow Airport.
If you want to get into forklift driving but are not sure where to start, then job agencies are a really good place to try, as companies are often looking for forklift drivers on a temporary basis and this in-turn may lead to a more permanent opportunity.
For those looking for a more secure and long term pathway into forklift driving there also may be apprenticeships available in warehousing and distribution fields.
There isn’t a huge amount of room for progression in forklift driving and so the most natural step to take would be to progress through the ranks of the particular company by going for a team leader or management role.
If you did wish to make the most of any experience driving forklifts then there are forklift instructor training courses available or you could even try your hand at being a forklift maintenance engineer if you enjoyed the more technical aspect.
Also known as…
- Forklift Truck Operator
- Fork-hoist Operator
- Forklift Driver
- Hoist Truck Operator
What’s it really like?
Shaun Morris has been a forklift driver for over two years now. If you’re thinking of following in his footsteps then this is what you can expect…
I’ve been at Yeo Valley since 2004 and for the first two years worked as a multi-packer. I was keen to progress and had always been interested in becoming a fork lift driver so when the opportunity came up I was very happy to take it. In order to take up the role I first had to gain my forklift license, which I achieved courtesy of a four day training course paid for by my employers.
I have now been driving a forklift for two years and enjoy the added responsibility the role brings; after all a depot such as ours would grind to a halt pretty quickly in our absence! It’s not an easy job by any means and requires a high degree of concentration. It can be easy to get carried away when you first start the role, much like when you start driving, but it is absolutely crucial that you stick to your training to the letter.
You often hear about accidents involving forklift trucks on the news and when you work in this sort of environment it’s easy to see how they happen. I have recently become a health and safety officer, so know how what steps should be taken but it’s still not always possible to prevent the odd incident. In fact I’ve been involved in one or two accidents myself, although fortunately the only thing damaged on both occasions were fairly inexpensive items of stock.
The best tip I can give is always to remember your training and if you feel that tiredness or any other factor may be affecting your concentration to tell your manager or team leader. It is far better to take an additional break than to risk an accident.
In the future I’d like to progress to team manager, ideally while still on fork lifts and then eventually leave the forklifts completely to take on a more senior managerial role.