Lift Truck Operator

The Job and What's Involved

Lift truck operators transport heavy goods around premises such as factories and warehouses. They load and unload goods from vehicles, for example, lorries and aircraft. They place the goods on storage racks or on the floor, singly or on top of each other.

The goods are usually transported and stored on pallets in wooden cases or wire cages, enabling the load to be lifted easily and safely. The job can involve manoeuvring heavy weights at substantial heights.

The work involves:

  • Picking up loads on the forks, or lifting attachment, of the lift truck.
  • Transporting the load to a new position.
  • Raising or lowering the load into place.
  • Withdrawing the forks.
  • Reversing the truck and proceeding to the next job.

Operators must work carefully to avoid damage to goods or their surroundings and to reduce the risk of injury to themselves or others. Space in warehouses and factories is often limited, with gangways often just wide enough for truck movements. Operators must be able to manoeuvre the truck in all situations, including transporting a load down a slope or up a ramp.

They signal and sound warning horns when manoeuvring the truck. They must know the layout of the workplace, avoid any obstacles such as lights, cables and support columns, and remove any obstructions.

Operators carry out daily maintenance checks on their trucks. They may have to charge the battery, refuel, identify defects and report them to the service engineer.

Some operators may have to keep basic written records and follow worksheet instructions. In warehouses with computerised management systems, they read instructions from a small computer display panel fitted to the truck. They also use a keyboard to receive and acknowledge directions for where goods are to be stored.

Lift truck operators may also help to load and unload trucks manually and perform other warehouse duties, such as packing.

Some operators work normal daytime hours (9am to 5pm), from Monday to Friday. Others may work shifts, including evening and weekend work. Part-time work is possible. There may be overtime and, in some industries, temporary work may be available at busy periods.

Operators usually work indoors in a warehouse, which may be light, airy and temperature controlled, or in a factory, which could be noisy.

Operators may also work outside, in a goods yard or transporting goods to other sites. Some trucks may have enclosed cabs that provide protection in poor weather, but outdoor work can still be cold and wet.

Starting salaries may be around £12,000 a year. Some employers offer productivity bonus schemes and there may be additional payments for shift work, night work and overtime.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 100,000 lift truck operators employed in the UK. They work in factories, stores, warehouses, goods yards or heavy haulage depots. They may be employed in any industry dealing with heavy or bulky goods, including major retail companies.

There are many opportunities connected with transport centres, such as airports and railway terminals. There are also opportunities in the Armed Forces.

Vacancies may be advertised in the local and national press, in Connexions centres, and in Jobcentre Plus offices. They may also be found on the websites for large organisations.

Education and Training

There are no formal entry requirements, but many employers like evidence of ability in basic maths to work out safe loads and weights. English is also useful for record keeping and paperwork.

Operators must be at least 18 years of age to drive a lift truck unsupervised, although it is possible to start training earlier. If a truck is used on public roads, traffic legislation applies, which means that the truck must be fully licensed and the operator must have a driving licence.

Operators may have to undergo a medical examination and an aptitude test. Good physical co-ordination is important.

Apprenticeships are available in Storage and Warehousing, leading to NVQ/SVQ Level 2. Advanced Apprenticeships in Wholesale, Distribution, Warehousing and Storage Operations lead to NVQ/SVQ Levels 2 and 3.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Lift trucks can be dangerous unless they are handled correctly. To comply with the law, employers must make sure they give adequate training and refresher training.

Training can take place in a training centre or on an employer's premises and lasts around three to five days (depending on experience and the number of people attending training). It combines theory with practical exercises. The test approved by the Health and Safety Executive covers:

  • An associated knowledge test (not always written).
  • A pre-use inspection of the lift truck.
  • A practical test, which includes manoeuvring, stacking and de-stacking within an aisle, and correct parking procedures.

Trainees are usually given a certificate of basic training to show they have reached the right standard. After training, operators work under supervision until they are 18 years old and fully competent.

Lift truck operators can take the National Proficiency Tests Council (NPTC) Level 2 Certificate of Competence in Fork Lift Truck Operations, or work towards NVQ/SVQ Levels 1 and 2 in Specialised Plant and Machinery Operations.

Many employers, particularly in the construction industry, require lift truck operators to have a Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS) card before they start work. This card shows that the card holder is competent in the job and has a good level of health and safety awareness. To get a CPCS card, it is necessary to pass the NVQ/SVQ Level 2 in Plant Operations and the ConstructionSkills Health and Safety Test.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A lift truck operator should:

  • Be able to work efficiently and safely, especially during busy periods.
  • Have a responsible and mature approach to work.
  • Be meticulous about following safety rules.
  • Have good physical co-ordination.
  • Have good concentration.
  • Be able to assess weights and judge distances.
  • Be able to follow written instructions.
  • Be able to complete worksheets and keep records.
  • Be a good team worker.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion prospects are limited. Some operators progress to work as large goods vehicle (LGV) drivers or supervisors in warehousing or dispatch.

Experienced operators may be selected to train as instructors.

Get Further Information

Association of Industrial Truck Trainers (AITT),
Unit 20, The Springboard Centre, Mantle Lane,
Coalville, Leicestershire LE67 3DW
Tel: 01530 277857

ConstructionSkills, CPCS Department,
Bircham Newton, Kings Lynn, Norfolk PE31 6RH
Tel: 0870 417 7274

Lantra, Lantra House, Stoneleigh Park,
Warwickshire CV8 2LG
Tel: 024 7669 6996

National Plant Operators Registration
Scheme (NPORS) Limited,
PO Box 204, Northwich,
Cheshire CW9 7FY
Tel: 01606 49909

National Proficiency Tests Council (NPTC),
Stoneleigh Park, Stoneleigh,
Warwickshire CV8 2LG
Tel: 024 7685 7300

The Road Transport Industry Training Board (RTITB),
Access House, Halesfield 17, Telford,
Shropshire TF7 4PW
Tel: 01952 520200

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