Industrial Truck Operator: Job Description & Salary Information

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An industrial truck operator's median annual salary is around $31,340. Is it worth the certification requirements and physical risks? See real job descriptions and information about salary and career prospects to see if becoming an industrial truck operator is the right choice for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being an Industrial Truck Operator

Industrial truck or tractor operators drive vehicles that lift and transport objects and materials to different areas of a work site. Check out these pros and cons of being an industrial truck operator to help you find out if it's the right choice for you.

Pros of an Industrial Truck Operator Career
No formal education requirements*
Minimal training needed*
Can work anywhere - no geographical limitations on employment*
Job availability tends to be relatively favorable due to high industry turnover*

Cons of an Industrial Truck Operator Career
Potentially dangerous working conditions*
Work may be seasonal in some industries and locations*
Work may be physically strenuous or stressful (exposure to outdoor elements, high-volume work environment, fumes, etc.)*
May work irregular hours, including nights and weekends*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Info

Job Description

Industrial truck or industrial tractor operators are in charge of driving and operating machinery that moves materials from one place to another around an area such as a warehouse, factory or construction site. Frequently, this machinery is a forklift or includes components similar to one for lifting and carrying large or heavy objects. Operation of industrial trucks may include such actions as pulling levers, shifting gears and working pedals. The distances traversed are usually short, as industrial truck operators generally work within a specified site. Industrial truck operators may also perform basic maintenance or repair on the vehicles they use.

The operation of this machinery and the environments where it is used may pose potential hazards to workers. Conditions such as continuous loud noise or fumes from machinery or materials may exist, and work may be done outdoors in various weather conditions.

Salary Info and Job Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) listed the median annual salary for industrial truck and tractor operators in 2014 as about $31,340, with the middle half of workers earning between $25,190 and $38,810.

The job growth for industrial truck operators is projected to grow 2% between 2014 and 2024, according to the BLS. This growth is primarily sought in warehouses, where this equipment improves efficiency.

Career Requirements

Necessary Skills

Certification that follows the standards proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is mandatory for forklift operators; generally, this training and certification is provided by employers. There are no formal education requirements for industrial truck operators, and since most of the training is provided on the job, there are very few formal training qualifications necessary to be hired. Due to its physically demanding nature, the job will require you to have a number of physical capabilities. Some of these include:

  • Hand-eye-foot coordination (for simultaneously operating different aspects of machinery)
  • Depth perception and distance judgment
  • Solid sense of balance and coordination
  • Good eyesight
  • Ability to respond to signals and directions immediately and accurately
  • Physical strength
  • Attention to safety precautions and procedures

What Employers Are Looking for

Employers often seek candidates who have schedule flexibility, as it is not uncommon for jobs in this field to call for irregular hours or work during nights and weekends. In some cases, industrial truck operator jobs may include loading, unloading, paperwork or organizing duties, in addition to machinery operation. Below are a few examples of actual job postings from employers in March 2012:

  • A warehouse in Illinois was looking for a candidate with six months to one year of experience operating forklifts and other equipment to operate machinery, perform safety inspections and handle paperwork. Prior forklift certification and availability for flexible hours was preferred.
  • A New Jersey manufacturing plant sought an industrial truck operator to transfer finished goods to trailers for transportation to storage or delivery. The job required working 12-hour shifts and called for some computer skills.
  • A California-based pharmaceutical company had an opening for a currently certified forklift operator to work first, second or third shifts plus potential overtime. Prior experience operating forklifts was required.
  • An information sciences company in Pennsylvania called for a seasonal forklift operator whose duties would include loading and unloading goods and straightening up the work site at the beginning of the day. Workers were sought for the second and third shifts.

How to Stand out from the Competition

While employers will almost always provide the necessary training and certification required by OSHA to operate a forklift, some local union branches offer non-mandatory training in areas such as heavy equipment management. Sometimes these trainings are formal apprenticeships, which pay wages while providing hands-on job training. Programs such as these can develop and demonstrate your skills to future employers and give you an edge as a candidate.

There are also numerous schools and programs that offer forklift certification either online or in person. This may save your potential employer the time it takes to certify you and indicates that you already have expertise in safety management and operation procedures; having your certification may increase your appeal as a candidate. If you go this route, make sure the training you undergo is compliant with OSHA regulations for forklift certification.

Other Career Options

Refuse and Recyclables Collector

If you'd like a job that involves machinery but would prefer to not work within a single work site, you could consider becoming a refuse and recyclables collector. These workers pick up materials for recycling from residences or businesses and transport them to landfill or recycling locations. The job often involves working irregular hours, including in the very early morning. The occupation has a 20% projected job growth between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS. In addition, refuse and recycling collection does not have the potential seasonal limitations that being an industrial truck operator does. The BLS reports that in 2011, refuse and recyclables collectors earned a median annual salary of $32,300.

Brickmason

If the irregular hours and heavy machinery involved in being an industrial truck operator do not appeal to you, you might want to think about working as a brickmason. Brickmasons build sidewalks, walls or residential projects with their hands using brick or stone. Their job is still physically strenuous, involving lifting heavy objects and positions such as kneeling or stretching, but they usually work 40 hours per week during regular daytime hours. There are generally no formal education requirements to be a brickmason, and training is often acquired via an apprenticeship or informally on the job. According to the BLS, bricklayers in 2011 earned a median annual salary of about $46,800.

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