The Often-Underestimated Role of a Forklift Driver in Warehousing

by Ryan Sanicki

Ryan is a Junior at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. As a Supply Chain Management major with a minor in Business Analytics, he aspires to a career as a Supply Chain Analyst/Executive

Companies can completely tune out the people who are doing physical work for the company: those doing that work are the warehouse workers, the ones who physically put a toll on their bodies every day to move products from one place to another. I had the great opportunity of being in a warehouse as a Warehouse Operations Intern this past summer. I would drive a forklift for a large portion of the day and complete tasks assigned by the Operations Manager. Today, during the COVID-19 virus, forklift drivers are considered essential workers and are providing services all around the world. 

What it takes to be a forklift driver

To be a forklift driver all it takes a certification that is offered from the company. Many people who do this work don’t go to college and do it as an employment alternative right out of high school. As a result, stereotypes can emerge that people in the warehouse aren’t smart and that’s the reason they are there. 

From my experience, this assumption is far from valid. The people I worked aside were very good at their jobs. As a new worker for just the summer, it took me time to learn how to use the forklift and complete a wide variety of tasks around the warehouse. I quickly came to appreciate how good the regular operators were at their jobs. 

Warehousing work can be very physically demanding. Consider that the average age of a forklift driver is 42 years old, according to Job Outlook. With the amount of physical labor required, the risk of injury is substantial, over time. Lifting and stacking boxes all day can take a toll on your body. As a 21-year-old I would go home and be exhausted, I can’t imagine how the older guys felt. 

Where are forklift drivers required?

Having talked with other students, I’ve learned that forklift drivers are needed in many industries. Consider grocery stores and distribution facilities, for example. Forklift operators are required to move unit loads of products at places like Costco. The next time you are in a place like Costco or The Home Depot,  take a moment to consider the skids stacked on the shelves there. A forklift operator is required to put the palletized product on the rack as well as to lower it for customers to access.  

Success tips for forklift operators

Some things I learned from being in a warehouse was that there is a strong bond between everybody. There are several skills I feel people can gain from an entry-level forklift position:

  1. Understand how a Warehouse Operates: Taking the time to understand the operation and treating your role seriously can lead to promotions. Most big companies manufacture products and need a place to store them. They also people need to oversee these operations. Having experience in a warehouse can put you ahead of other candidates for jobs with more responsibility.  
  2. Interaction/Communication Skills: Being able to interact with the company’s truck drivers and communicating with other co-workers is important to be a successful team. Knowing how to be a part of a team is something we all need to have. With most jobs, working well with others goes a long way.  
  3. Hard Work: To say you know what it’s like to be in the shoes of a forklift driver can build a lot of respect. If I get into an upper management position in the future, I want to walk around and show forklift drivers that I care about them.  Showing that I know what it’s like to be in their shoes would go a long way. 

Overall, people’s views on warehouse workers are misinterpreted. They are the smart, outgoing, hardworking people that make companies thrive with revenue. If you ever are in an upper management role or are now, please go down and thank warehouse workers for their work. I know what it’s like in their shoes and knowing that the hard work is acknowledged goes a long way. These people matter in companies and when doing a good job, it is important to keep them around. 


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