Automation was cited as a major area of concern at the recent online event hosted by the Association of Industrial Truck Trainers (AITT).
In a poll of attendees, 75% were either concerned or recognised there is some risk as automation plays an ever-greater role within materials handling.
The AITT conference covered a number of topics, with presentations being delivered by some of the industry's biggest names.
Phil Woodhall, head of UK sales training and product management at Jungheinrich, explored the rise of new technologies and where operators fit into the ongoing evolution of forklifts.
"Automation is very effective. Around 15-20% of the market is suitable for automation, but it's not going to load lorries in the yard," he said. "If it's repetitive and involves high storage density, then yes, automation may well be a solution.
"It's about making marginal gains and implementing the changes necessary to stay sustainable, not just today but well into the future. That will involve manually operated trucks as well as semi- and fully automated equipment.
"But even within the most fully automated site, there will always be a need for conventional forklifts. And that will require training for operators and those with overall responsibility for handling operations."
The conference also featured Graham Andrews, former global lead MHE Safety at Heineken, who provided great insight into the need for different training approaches, including e-learning. In a poll, 69% of attendees said they believe that remote learning could play a considerable or part of a role in future forklift operator training.
In addition, attendees heard from FLTA chief executive Tim Waples, who spoke about the support that only a proactive trade association can provide, including specialist, trusted, up-to-date guidance relating to many aspects of materials handling.
A conference poll revealed that 87% of delegates who are members of a trade association felt that they had received valuable support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Adam Smith, managing director of AITT, describes the online conference as "a great way to bring people together to discuss the future of operator training".
"We are living through ever-changing circumstances, but as we saw in the presentations, there are many opportunities to adapt and succeed. Operators will remain integral to materials handling in the vast majority of operations, and even though they may work in partnership with automated systems, there will be no substitution for the duties they perform.
"It will, therefore, be essential for training providers to continue delivering in-depth, accredited training in line with the highest industry standards. AITT members, for example, receive guidance, resources and ongoing advice to help them keep up with industry developments, including how to deliver COVID-secure training. By sharing information through our network, and through further events, we hope to improve the effectiveness of training for the good of the industry, both now and in the long term."