How much do forklift drivers make?

If you’re looking for ways to make extra money, picking up warehouse shifts on Instawork is a great option. And if you've gotten certified to drive a forklift, you might earn even more for those specialized skills. But how much do forklift drivers make, exactly?

Read on for a look at the income potential for forklift drivers in the US, as well as an overview of the skills and qualifications you'll need to get the job.

Factors that affect how much a forklift driver makes across the U.S.

There are four main factors that affect how much forklift drivers make:

Experience level

An entry-level forklift driver can expect to be on the lower end of the pay range when they’re starting out.

The industry 

You can find forklift driver jobs in many different industries. These include logistics companies, retail companies, manufacturing plants, and more. And as you can imagine, the pay varies according to where you are employed.

The size of the business 

You probably won't earn as much working as a forklift driver at a small logistics company as you would at a national retail chain. Bigger companies can often afford to pay more than smaller businesses.

Your location 

Finally, how much a forklift driver makes will depend on their location. You can find higher pay for forklift operators in big cities, although of course, big cities will often have a higher cost of living as well. Markets that are more competitive markets tend to pay better, too. If there's a shortage of forklift drivers in your area, employers may offer more pay in order to attract workers.

How much do forklift drivers make based on experience?

Your level of experience is an important aspect when determining what you should make as a forklift driver. Here are some estimates of pay based on experience, according to Payscale.

Little to no experience

Although location, industry, and size all affect the salary ranges for inexperienced forklift drivers, the national average for most full-time forklift operators with little to no experience is close to $26,000. This works out to about $12.50 per hour, assuming you work 40 hours a week.

Some experience

The national average of how much forklift drivers with 2-4 years of experience make is about $29,000 per year. Assuming you work 40 hours a week, that would average out to about $14 per hour.

Lots of experience

Experienced forklift drivers who have a salary make $32,000 or more per year. Again, assuming a 40-hour workweek, this comes out to about $15.50 per hour.

And don’t forget — shifts on Instawork often pay above the industry average, so you could earn even more than that.

Forklift driver job description

If you're wondering "how much do forklift drivers make?" you may also want to know what they do on a day-to-day basis. In short, forklift drivers use vehicles called forklifts to transport goods in storage facilities.

So what do they move? Pretty much anything! From boxes and pallets to other packaged goods, it's all on the table. The goods they move might include construction materials, home goods, food, etc.

Warehouses are packed with activity. There are many employees and tons of products stacked high in the air as well as moving vehicles and other industrial equipment on the floor. This makes paying attention to safety rules and regulations critical.

Forklift drivers oversee the safety of the vehicles they manage and the team around them. As a forklift driver, you’re in charge of keeping things safe while moving loads within the facility.

Forklift driver responsibilities

Responsibilities of a forklift driver might include:

  • Receiving products from vendors
  • Checking the conditions of supplies as they arrive, and verifying that the boxes and products inside are in good condition — and if they’re not, flagging it to their supervisor
  • Inspecting orders to ensure they arrive complete — and if any items are missing, recording which ones and flagging it to their supervisor
  • Loading and unloading the forklift to transport goods in the warehouse
  • Keeping the warehouse organized. Many facilities organize products according to factors like which items are used. You can also organize based on the heaviest or lightest loads and fragile products
  • Tracking stock and daily activities in the warehouse
  • Meeting legal guidelines and company policies. A good example is the use of protective equipment

Forklift driver skills and qualifications

To be a forklift driver, the first thing you need is a proactive attitude. Warehouses are big and can be risky if you're not paying attention. Forklift drivers should have clear communication with the people around them. It’s essential to respect the team and feel comfortable working with them. But you should also feel confident speaking up — if you think there's a better way to do something, or a potential hazard, say it.

Forklift drivers also need specialized skills and safety knowledge. Depending on where you work, there may be different types of forklifts you’ll be expected to operate. A background working with industrial safety or equipment may help you get a job as a forklift driver, and experience working other physical jobs may also be a plus.

Finally, you need to follow legal requirements, like getting a forklift license or certification.

How much does it cost to get a forklift license?

A forklift license, a.k.a. forklift certification, typically costs anywhere from $50 to $200. The cost can vary based on if you choose online or in-person training. How big the school — among other factors — can also affect the pricing.

Companies may pay for their employees' forklift driver training and certification. But if you plan to work as an independent contractor, you’ll want to invest in certification in order to pick up forklift driver shifts. Fortunately, you shouldn't have to work too many shifts to make up for what you spent on forklift certification.

High-paying jobs for experienced forklift drivers

Forklift drivers can also earn more if they pursue a more specialized career path. The following jobs may require additional training, education, or experience, but they also tend to pay more.

Forklift supervisor

A forklift supervisor manages the team in the facility. As supervisors, they interview and select new forklift drivers. They manage operations and have a leading role in the warehouse.

The salary for forklift supervisors is about 2x the average for regular drivers at $60,738 per year, according to ZipRecruiter.

Forklift repair technician/mechanic

A forklift repair technician is an expert in repairing and servicing forklifts. This includes regular practices like cleaning the equipment and checking the tires. It may also include more complex tasks like oiling the machinery and checking fluid levels and brakes. Other routine mechanic tasks include replacing worn-down parts and scheduling check-ups.

Forklift repair technicians have job-specific training and need an extra license. But reports that salaries for a forklift technician start at $33,949 and can go up to $64,000 or more per year.

Forklift engineer

Forklift engineers are the highest-ranked experts for forklift maintenance. They’re responsible for the more technical aspects of forklift maintenance. You can find a forklift engineer giving instructions to the forklift technician. Sometimes, they oversee groups of technicians who perform the work.

A forklift engineer can make upwards of $64,000 per year, with the top earners making more than $100,000, according to ZipRecruiter.

Annual vs. hourly pay

Average pay rates change quite a bit depending on the location, but looking at pay rates in the following areas may help you understand what to expect.


Indeed reports that salaried forklift operators in Chicago make an average of $44,691. According to ZipRecruiter, however, the average hourly pay for forklift operators in Chicago is about $29.22 per hour.

Los Angeles

ZipRecruiter reports that forklift drivers' average salary is the highest in California. It's $35,571 per year for the state, but the average is a bit lower at $28,022 for full-time roles in LA. On an hourly basis, though, forklift operators earn an average of $25.82 per hour.


As a forklift operator in Dallas, you can make an average salary of $28,056. ZipRecruiter says the average hourly pay for forklift operators, on the other hand, is $25.56 per hour.


The average salary for full-time forklift drivers in Atlanta, GA, is $25,444 per year. The average hourly pay, meanwhile, is $27.97 per hour, according to ZipRecruiter.

New Jersey

Finally, salaried forklift drivers in New Jersey earn an average of $24,085 per year. The hourly rate, meanwhile, comes out to an average of $25.88 per hour, according to ZipRecruiter.

Find forklift driver shifts on Instawork

Thanks to their specialized training, the average hourly pay for forklift drivers is solid and only grows as they gain experience over time. And remember, shifts on Instawork tend to pay above the industry average. Best of all, they get to work on a flexible schedule, picking up as many or as few shifts as they want in order to hit their personal income goals.

So what are you waiting for? Sign up to find shifts in your area and start earning today!