How Do I Become a Tower Crane Operator?

Research what it takes to become a tower crane operator. Learn about the educational and licensure requirements, along with job outlook and salary information, to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Heavy Equipment degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Tower Crane Operator?

Tower crane operators are licensed workers who utilize specialized heavy machinery designed to move various objects. At construction sites, they may use this equipment to transport large and heavy materials and machines from one location to another, or to lift them high in the air, such as to the top of a tall structure. At major ports, they use cranes to load and unload cargo from ships and barges. In addition to running the controls on the machines they use, tower crane operators are also responsible for cleaning their equipment and performing routine maintenance.

The following table provides information for this career:

Education Required High school diploma or equivalent
Training Required On-the-job training, apprenticeship
Licensure/Certification Required in some states or cities; certification is available
Job Growth (2014-24) 8%*
Average Salary (2015) $54,560*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need for a Career as a Tower Crane Operator?

Because most of the skills necessary for operating a tower crane can only be acquired through on-the-job training, you'll generally only need to have a high school diploma or equivalent. In order to obtain on-the-job training, you could enter an apprenticeship program. For example, the International Union of Operating Engineers offers apprenticeship programs for tower crane operators in training schools at numerous locations around the United States (www.iuoe.org). It usually takes between 3-4 years to complete an apprenticeship program.

Do I Need to Get Certified?

The National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) provides professional certification for tower crane operators (www.nccco.org). In order to become certified, you'll have to show that you meet certain physical requirements by passing a physical examination and acquiring a Department of Transportation (DOT) medical examiner's certificate.

You'll also have to pass a certification exam that includes a written component and a practical component. The written exam covers topics such as identification of site hazards, procedures for erecting, climbing and dismantling a crane, maintenance and inspection, government regulations and safety procedures. The practical component requires you to demonstrate your ability to operate an actual crane both with and without a load.

NCCCO certification lasts for five years. You can apply for recertification after the end of the fourth year. The recertification exam only has a written component, but in order to be eligible to take the recertification exam, you must apply for recertification before your current certification period expires. Once your certification expires, you'll no longer be eligible to take the recertification exam and you'll have to retake the full certification exam, including the practical component, again.

What Salary Could I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), crane and tower operators earned a mean annual salary of $54,560 in May 2015 (www.bls.gov). The average annual wage fluctuated between industries and locations; those working in the petroleum manufacturing industry averaged $70,840 that year, while those working in water transportation averaged $68,430. Crane operators working in metropolitan areas of New York earned a mean salary of $78,870 a year, while operators in Mississippi averaged $43,160.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are many types of heavy equipment that you could specialize in operating. For instance, as a dredge operator, you would use a machine that excavates waterways by removing sand, gravel and rocks. Alternatively, as a derrick operator, you would control the movement of platforms that move people and equipment around construction sites. Another option is a job as a paving equipment operator, in which you would control machines that spread asphalt and lay concrete. For any of these jobs, you need to have at least a high school diploma.

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