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Becoming a forklift operator can be harder than you might imagine

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Most types of serious vehicles have a fairly lengthy training process to become qualified and there are usually hundreds of training schools clamoring for the business. If you want to learn to operate a forklift, and you are not currently employed at a company that will train you internally or pay for your training, then good luck finding training at all.

Typical time frames to achieve proficiency and be ready to function at reasonable levels: (approx. timeframes)

• CDL – Commercial Drivers License for semi trucks = 15 days
• Single Engine Private Pilot License = 60 days
• Heavy Equipment (including dozer, scraper, etc.) = 90 days

• Powered Industrial Truck?

The U.S. has a serious problem; one that is likely causing more deaths, injuries and damage than need to occur. We get calls every week from individuals who have never driven a forklift and who want to get a job driving one. Forklift jobs typically pay several dollars per hour more, which adds up to thousands of dollars over a typical year. For someone that is just “getting by,” a few thousand more can make a huge difference in their lives and in the lives of their families. You might ask, “What’s the problem,” send them down to the local forklift dealer for “the generic class.”

OSHA now requires training to be site and lift specific; which means a trainer needs to know what they will be operating, under what type of conditions, etc. If they don’t know these factors and can’t test them on the exact lift, or at least the same type, then providing training to that person is impractical because it may not be what they really need. For someone that has never driven a forklift, taking a class of a few hours and then spending 5-10 minutes of hands on time creates a problem. If the person worked for a company that had forklifts, then their company could provide them “practice operation” and get them up to speed; which is permissible according to the OSHA standard. Those without a company, or working at a company that will not spend the time to work with them, don’t have the practice operation luxury; they must try and “buy” their training and hands on experience. Potential employers, many of which don’t know what is required for training, accept just about any card a person can produce, which is also a problem.

You can log onto the internet today and obtain a permit to drive a forklift in a fairly short amount of time, maybe without even completing the hands on portion. How valuable is this type of training and the card you get with it? It has little or no value, but it provides a piece of paper which potential employers are looking for and may get a person a job they are not qualified to perform, which puts everyone in danger. Where people and companies are missing the mark is that the paper means nothing without the skills and experience to back it up. It is better to have significant experience and no card to prove it, than have a current card and nothing to back it up, since sooner or later you must prove your skills on the forklift.

There are tons of forklift training centers across the U.S., but how many of them are equipped to take in people that have never been on a lift and shape them into forklift operators; allotting the needed time? You might ask “How much time is needed to get someone up to speed?” I would guess each trainer would have their own opinions and they might run from less than a day to over a month, but my opinion would be that if you could spend the better part of a work week with a small group of new people, you could get them functional to a reasonable level and able to perform most typical operations on one or even several types of forklifts.

Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not trying to be critical of any company or any trainer because I don’t have the solution to the problem either. The logistics, capital investment, time commitments and liability to pull off this type of training is huge, but we have to find a better way than what is currently available for folks to obtain knowledge and skills.

Written by Brian Colburn of Forklift Training Systems (, a leading provider of forklift safety training and materials. Forklift Training Systems can be contacted at

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