Telehandler Operators, Their Role and How to Become One

  • magda

by Daniel Green

Take equal parts crane, bobcat, 4WD comp truck and forklift. Throw it in the oven for forty-four years. The result? A telescopic materials handler aka a telehandler. Depending on which part of the world you hail from its also known as a manitou or a JCB, the latter of which invented this complex machine back in 1977.

With construction projects becoming more and more complicated with smaller footprints on which to build them, compact mobile lifting machinery like telehandlers are becoming increasingly popular. So if you’re pretty handy on equipment, have a good understanding of construction and some solid ideas around lifting and physics, now might be the time to look into getting licensed. But I guess that’s why you’re here, right?

A Day in the Life Of

No matter if it’s a commercial, industrial, civil, defence or demolition site – telehandlers are gophers: they go for this, they go for that. They’re a dogsbody who’s sole job is to serve everyone that needs construction equipment and materials shifted and lifted. Their work is often queued long in advance, and because they’re the one moving everything around site they invariably become the person who knows where everything is. Or at least where things were last seen! When it’s busy their two-way will be going off with requests all day. So if you like to work at a decent pace and enjoy a new challenge with every task, telehandling could be for you.


To qualify for the course itself you will only need a white card, but, it’s important to understand that the tele operator is a senior position on site. This means that you are expected to have a decent understanding of equipment and materials used in construction, as well as how they should be handled, moved and stored.

For example. Let’s say you’re instructed to get a pallet of Renderoc from the basement and leave it on the roof for the patchers who will be arriving first thing in the morning. Except by the time you actually lift the pallet onto the roof its begun to rain. You would need to know why you don’t leave it in the rain overnight. Hint: render sets when mixed with water.

Likewise, if you need to bring 16mm reo from the lay down yard because there’s a pour happening in the next few days – you’ve gotta know what in the heck you’re looking for. Yes, you can go straight from your white card course into your telehandler course but honestly it’s best to have a some construction experience under your belt first.

The Qualification Itself

When the telehandler came along in 1977 regulating bodies must have cursed poor JCB. The machine was [and is] so damn versatile that it doesn’t fit into the traditional licensing structures. It’s not quite a forklift, not quite a 4WD, not quite a crane and not quite a wheel loader! Depending on the size, the lifting capacity, whether or not it slews and what attachments it carries means it can be any of these things – or none! No wonder no one can agree on quantifying the thing! So every Australian state and territory has its own opinion on how to train and license telehandler operators.

Today we’re going to discuss NSW only, so if you’re in another state unfortunately you must refer to your own legislative bodies. But even in NSW there’s confusion, so let’s clarify once and for all. Telehandler machines [and qualifications] are divided into four categories:

  1. Under 3 tonnes lifting capacity, non-slewing
  2. Over 3 tonnes lifting capacity, non-slewing
  3. Under 3 tonnes lifting capacity, slewing
  4. Over 3 tonnes lifting capacity, slewing

Slewing is just a fancy term meaning that the boom sits on a turntable that can be rotated separately to the telehandler itself. And to add more confusion there are a variety of machine configurations that can affect which qualification you require. More on those later, but for now let’s just start from the most licensing you may need and work backwards.

C6 Crane License

If the tele can lift more than 20t you will need a C6, which is a slewing crane ticket with a lifting capacity up to 60t. This is a blanket qualification, meaning you can operate any telehandler there is [there isn’t a telehandler big enough to carry more than 60t].

C2 Crane License

If the tele can lift more than 3t but less than 20t you will need a C2, which, like the C6, is a slewing crane ticket with a lifting capacity up to 20t. You can operate any telehandler with a lifting capacity under 20t.

CN Crane License

If the tele does not slew at all but has a lifting capacity greater than 3t then you will need a non-slewing crane ticket, known as a CN [Crane, Non-slewing].

Telehandler Gold Card

If the tele has a lifting capacity less than 3t then technically you don’t need a license at all. In fact, the famed Gold Card isn’t one. However, smart businesses are not in the habit of letting operators loose on potentially dangerous machinery without some kind of training and certification. So the Elevated Work Platform and TeleScopic Handler Associations created a one day training course with an ID card at the end. It is not a license. What it is evidence of telehandler training in order to give some structure to an unregulated section of the materials handling industry.

The Gold Card qualification is titled RIIHAN309F, meaning:

  • Resources and Infrastructure Industry training package
  • telescopic HANdler
  • part of a certificate level 3
  • sequence number 09
  • revision F

An average Gold Card training course will run for an entire day including assessment. This will include theory and practical components and will cost in region of $500.

More Configurations

To add fuel to the fire, there are additional machine specs that can alter the need for qualifications. For example, a jib attachment on even the smallest non-slewing machine will require a CN ticket. Or operating a hi-rail telehandler calls for a Track Machine Operator ticket. The TMO is divided into light and heavy, which dictates which size hi-rail telehandler you can operate.

In Conclusion

If you’re still unclear on what qualification you require, you can follow this link here as it lays everything out quite clearly:

It would also be wise to confirm with an experienced Registered Training Organisation who has Crane and Telehandler tickets on their scope. They will have the most current knowledge around becoming a licensed telehandler operator.

Good luck and get lifting!