Mining Equipment Operator: Career and Salary Facts

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue as a mining equipment operator. Read on to learn more about career options along with education and salary information. Schools offering Heavy Equipment degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Mining Equipment Operator?

A mining equipment operator controls and maneuvers heavy machinery in the mining industry. Of the various jobs available in mining equipment operation, you might be a drill operator, a loading machine operator or a construction equipment operator. In addition to operating their equipment for mining-related purposes, these workers are also responsible for routine maintenance, such as cleaning their machines and performing basic repairs. No matter what activity they are performing, they must strictly adhere to safety policies in order to ensure the safety of all workers in the mining operation.

The following chart provides an overview of the education, job outlook and average salary in this field.

Drill Operator Loading Machine Operator Construction Equipment Operator
Degree Required High school diploma High school diploma High school diploma
Education Field of Study Drilling machinery service and repair; mine safety course Mining equipment operations and repair; mine safety course; welding Diesel mechanics, heavy equipment operation and repair, welding, mine safety course
Key Responsibilities Set up and operate drill rigs; diagnose mechanical-related problems and repair them; perform drill maintenance Operate mining equipment safely; diagnose mechanical-related problems and repair them; perform maintenance Operate heavy equipment safely; diagnose mechanical-related problems; perform maintenance
Job Growth (2014-24) 13% (for all rotary drill operators, oil and gas)* -5% (for all continuous mining machine operators)* 7% (for all service unit operators, oil, gas, and mining)*
Average Salary (2015) $60,380*$49,740 * $49,110 (for all operating engineers and other construction equipment operators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Mining Equipment Could I Operate?

Mining equipment varies, depending on the type of resource being mined and the kind of mining techniques that are used. Gas and oil mining companies rely on drill operators, pump operators and derrick crews to reach and extract oil and gas deposits. In the oil fields, you might run the drills, using either vertical or directional drilling techniques to reach the deposits. Your drilling will be guided by the results of the geologists' seismic prospecting and computer models, which will suggest the most effective ways to reach the oil and gas deposits.

In underground coal or metallic ore mines, the mining equipment may include drills, longwall machines, conveyors and shuttle cars. As a longwall-machine operator, you'll use a longwall machine to cut the coal or ore from the deposit. The longwall machine is designed to load this mined material directly onto the conveyor or into the shuttle car, which you'll then control as it takes the ore to the mine's entrance.

In a strip mine, a quarry or an open-pit mine, you may control the shovels or loaders, operate the excavators or drive the haul trucks. Whichever piece of equipment you operate, you'll be working in cooperation with other employees to move waste rock, coal or ore to its proper place at the mine site. As a shovel operator, you'll be tasked with quickly and efficiently loading large boulders onto the haul trucks, so their drivers can either dump the waste rock onto the tailings or transport the ore to the mill for processing.

What Training Do I Need?

As a mining equipment operator, you might receive your training on the job or through certificate classes and associate's programs. If you're interested in a certificate or degree, you might consider looking for a heavy equipment operator course at your local community college or trade school. Regardless of the training's source, you will take the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration's required mine safety course, which covers first aid training and safety procedures, mining laws and an overview of mining technology. New surface miners attend 24 hours of training, and those working in underground mines attend 40 hours of training.

After completing this training, you will receive classroom and hands-on instruction in mining equipment operation. Both on-the-job training and classroom courses teach new operators to inspect heavy equipment for proper maintenance and to employ safe and effective operation skills. Although mining equipment is specialized, the skills needed to operate most equipment effectively overlap with other industries, particularly heavy equipment operation in construction and roadwork settings.

How Much Could I Expect to Earn?

In May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that operating engineers and construction equipment operators earned a median annual salary of $44,600, or $21.44 per hour (www.bls.gov). This category of worker included excavator operators, loader operators and backhoe operators, among others. In contrast, the BLS reported that excavating and loading machine operators earned a median wage of $52,320, or $25.15 hourly, during the same period. This group included track hoe operators, dragline operators and end loader operators.

The BLS estimates that all mining and geologic engineer jobs would increase by 6 percent for the period between 2014 and 2024. This outlook was attributed to more efficient mining practices, which could improve productivity while also reducing the overall labor pool needed to extract these resources. Although fluctuating prices for metals, oil and gas may have caused a temporary improvement in employment figures, growing concerns over the environmental impact of mining were expected to slow the creation of new mining sites in the U.S.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of operating mining-related equipment, you could find a job utilizing heavy machinery for a different purpose. For instance, you could operate paving equipment at a construction site, such as machines that lay down concrete or spread asphalt. Another job option is a crane operator at a major port, where you would use the crane to load and unload cargo. For either of these jobs, you need to have at least a high school diploma.

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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