Heavy Equipment Operator: Career, Outlook and Education Requirements

Heavy equipment operators move materials, such as earth, concrete, wood, stone, and metal at construction and excavation sites. Heavy equipment operators are required to have a certain amount of experience in the industry and at least a high school diploma or GED. Schools offering Heavy Equipment degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What You Need to Know

To become a heavy equipment operator, usually only a high school education or equivalent is required. You can even 'earn while you learn' in an apprenticeship program. Employment is expected to grow faster than the average for equipment operators.

Responsibilities Prepare construction sites and build roads, bridges and buildings
Training High school diploma or GED and an apprenticeship
Career Outlook Expected to grow 19% 2012-2022

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Do Heavy Equipment Operators Do?

Heavy equipment operators specialize in the use of machinery such as bulldozers, bucket loaders, cranes, all-terrain forklifts, and pile drivers. They prepare construction sites and build roads, bridges, buildings, canals, and off-shore structures, such as oil rigs. Beginning heavy equipment operators generally use lighter, smaller machines and gradually advance to larger, more powerful machines. Heavy equipment operators who qualify to operate numerous types of construction equipment are classified as operating engineers.

What Training Do I Need?

In general, employers consider high school graduates or GED holders for employment as heavy equipment operators. There are many private vocational or training schools that offer certification programs that teach individuals how to operate some heavy equipment in as little as one month.

Prospective heavy equipment operators often complete an apprenticeship program administered by the International Union of Operating Engineers or the Associated General Contractors of America. Although these organizations are unions, the governing body of the apprenticeship programs is non-union. Apprenticeships often consist of at least three years of paid, on-the-job training, in addition to 144 hours of classroom work each year. Typically, apprentices start off on light equipment before moving on to becoming heavy equipment operators. Because of the need to transport heavy equipment to the job site, a commercial driver's license is often required.

What Are My Career Options?

Although there is always opportunity for self-employed heavy equipment operators, that number is relatively small. Most are employed by private construction companies and state and local governments. Still others are employed by the mining industry or manufacturing and utility companies. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) states that even though improvements in equipment that increase worker productivity may slow the need for new heavy equipment operators, the employment of construction equipment operators is expected to grow at a rate of 19% for the 10-year period of 2012-2022.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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  • Lincoln Tech

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  • Washington-Holmes Technical Center

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