California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators in California

May also be called: Forklift Drivers: Lift Truck Operators

What Would I Do?

Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators use machinery to move construction materials, manufactured goods, earth, petroleum products, and other heavy materials. Generally, they move materials over short distances; around construction sites, factories, or warehouses. Some Operators move materials onto or off of trucks and ships.

Operators need to understand the configuration of the warehouse, storage facility, or vehicle in which they are moving material. For example, some material would be stored in refrigerated areas, others where they are easy to get to. Material that isn't needed right away might be placed in long-term storage.

Operators control equipment by moving levers, wheels, and foot pedals. They may also operate forks or arms by moving switches or turning dials. Their duties usually include the set up and inspection of the equipment, making adjustments, and performing minor maintenance or repairs. Operators may manually handle freight, stock, or other materials, load material on or off the truck, and clean machinery, or other equipment.

A typical industrial truck, often called a forklift or lift truck, has a hydraulic lifting mechanism and forks for moving heavy and large objects. Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators also may operate tractors that pull trailers loaded with materials, goods, or equipment within factories and warehouses or around outdoor storage areas.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators must possess a variety of hands-on skills in order to successfully meet employer's objectives for this occupation. Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Move controls to drive gasoline- or electric-powered trucks, cars, or tractors and transport materials between loading, processing, and storage areas.Transportation
Signal workers to discharge, dump, or level materials.Active Listening
Move levers and controls that operate lifting devices, such as forklifts, lift beams and swivel-hooks, hoists, and elevating platforms, to load, unload, transport, and stack material.Multilimb Coordination
Position lifting devices under, over, or around loaded pallets, skids, and boxes, and secure material or products for transport to designated areas.Depth Perception
Turn valves and open chutes to dump, spray, or release materials from dump cars or storage bins into hoppers.Control Precision
Operate or tend automatic stacking, loading, packaging, or cutting machines.Operation and Control
Manually or mechanically load and unload materials from pallets, skids, platforms, cars, lifting devices, or other transport vehicles.Operation Monitoring
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators generally work in a warehouse or storage setting. Their daily activities can keep them inside of a large building, or outside in a storage setting or construction site.

The work can be strenuous, with workers moving material all day, sometimes manually loading and unloading pallets and trucks, and moving stock from one location to another. The work is often repetitive, dirty, and physically demanding. Workers lift and carry heavy material, bend, climb, kneel, crouch or crawl as part of their job. The machinery they use can emit exhaust fumes or battery acid, leading to sometimes unpleasant working conditions.

Weather can be a factor, as well. Warehouses are frequently not heated or cooled, and temperatures can be unpleasantly hot in the summer months, or freezing cold during the winter. Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators may need to work outside in a driving rainstorm, running the truck through mud and dodging potholes in the yard, all while balancing a heavy load. In summer, the blazingly hot California sun can exact a heavy toll on the comfort of the Operator. Sometimes, poor weather conditions mean that the Operator cannot work.

These workers generally work eight-hour shifts, five days a week, although these may include day, swing and night shifts. Sometimes workload requires Operators to work longer days and on holidays or weekends. Some workers, may not work when the weather is bad.

Many Operators are represented by a labor union, such as the International Union of Operating Engineers. Others are represented by other unions, such as the Teamsters.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators may appeal to those enjoy activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. It may appeal to those who enjoy working independently with tools and machinery.

Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators do some of their work alone, dealing with materials such as dry goods, construction materials, and machinery. Experienced workers may not often work closely with others, and there is a minimum of paperwork required. However, these employees follow specific overall direction from their employers. Industrial Truck Operators may interact with other Operators when placing loads in close quarters.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?


The median wage in 2016 for Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators in California is $35,533 annually, or $17.08 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas


Employers sometimes provide medical insurance, sick leave, holiday, and vacation pay. A retirement plan may be offered by the largest employers.

What is the Job Outlook?

Because the occupation has so many workers, most job openings will occur to fill positions left vacant as other workers leave for other jobs.

The job can be seasonal, meaning that workers probably will have to find other work during the rest of the year.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators is expected to grow at an average rate compared with the total for all occupations. Jobs for Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators are expected to increase by 15.8 percent, or 9,500 jobs between 2014 and 2024.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 950 new job openings per year is expected for Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators, plus an additional 1,500 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 2,450 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

Most employers prefer applicants with a high school diploma or equivalent. A strong work ethic and enthusiastic attitude are definite pluses when a job applicant is looking for a position. In most companies, the worker needs to be at least 18 years old, and physically able to do the job.

Drug testing is often a requirement of the job, since the Operator will be working with dangerous equipment, and may work around others, leading to the potential for injury to the Operator or other workers. Some employers require workers to pass a physical exam and background check as well.

Safety is an important part of the job, and most employers require that a safety training program meeting U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards is completed by all employees.

Workers who handle toxic chemicals or use industrial trucks or other dangerous equipment must receive specialized training in safety awareness and procedures.


Employers seek applicants with experience as an Operator. However, depending upon demand, applicants with little or no experienced may be hired. Sometimes a worker is promoted to an Operator position from elsewhere in the company.

Early Career Planning

Students interested in this work should take basic mathematics, English and shop classes. Some areas offer Regional Occupational Programs (ROP) in material handling.

Apprenticeship Programs

Apprenticeship programs may be available for this occupation.


The employer may require that the applicant possess a federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training and evaluation certificate, which is renewed every three years. Often, the employer will send the new employee to a training course leading to certification.

If hazardous materials will be encountered on the job, special safety courses may be offered by the employer.

Employers must certify that each operator has received the training and evaluate each operator at least once every 3 years, to meet OSHA requirements. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

  • Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Forklift Operator, Industrial Truck Operator, and Tractor Operator.
  • Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators work in a wide variety of industries. The largest industries employing Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Warehousing and Storage 15.2%
Employment Services 12.5%
Grocery Product Merchant Wholesalers 5.3%
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting 5.0%
Building Material and Supplies Dealers 3.2%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

The best way to find a job in this occupation is by applying directly to the employer. If the job is covered by a union contract, application to the appropriate union hall may be necessary. Classified ads and the Internet may provide additional hiring opportunities. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators.

  • Construction Supplies
  • Moving and Storage
  • State and Local Government
  • Temporary Help Agencies
  • Warehouse Club Stores and Supercenters
  • Warehousing and Storage

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Advancement Opportunities for Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators include becoming a supervisor, training for more complex and demanding work such as Crane Operator or Operating Engineer, or moving elsewhere in the logistics field.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators with links to more information.

Construction Equipment OperatorsProfile
Janitors and Cleaners, Except Maids and Housekeeping CleanersProfile
Rail Yard Engineers, Dinkey Operators, and HostlersProfile
Railroad Brake, Signal, and Switch OperatorsProfile
Refuse and Recyclable Material CollectorsGuide

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification53-7051
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators53-7051.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)RCI
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Ground Transportation, Other 490299
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Railroad and Light Rail Operations094740