Careers in Construction and Heavy Equipment

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in construction and heavy equipment. Read on to learn about career options along with salary and job outlook information. Schools offering Heavy Equipment degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Are Career Options in Construction and Heavy Equipment?

Construction and heavy equipment operators use machinery like bulldozers and pile drivers to accomplish various tasks at construction sites. Some possible career options include paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators, pile-driver operators, and operating engineers and other construction equipment operators. In all these careers, operators may be responsible for maintaining and repairing the equipment they operate. If a malfunction is beyond their ability, they report it to supervisors so that they may arrange repairs. When operating equipment, they may coordinate machine actions with crew members and ensure everyone is following safety protocols.

The careers differ depending on the nature of the construction projects and types of machines operated. The table below outlines the general requirements for these career options.

Paving, Surfacing, Tamping Equipment Operators Pile-Driver Operators Operating Engineers and Other Construction Equipment Operators
Degree Required H.S. diploma or equivalent preferred H.S. diploma or equivalent preferred H.S. diploma or equivalent preferred
Training Required Apprenticeship or training program recommended Apprenticeship or training program recommended Apprenticeship or training program recommended
Key Skills Operate the equipment that spreads and smooths asphalt Operate machines that hammer pilings into the ground Operate heavy construction equipment, such as bulldozers and trench excavators
Licensure Required Valid driver's license; commercial driver's license requirements vary by state 17 states require a crane license; valid drivers' license; commercial driver's license requirements vary by state Special operator licenses required in a few states for operators of backhoes, loaders and bulldozers; valid drivers' license; commercial driver's license requirements vary by state
Job Growth (2014-24) 9%* 17%* 10%*
Median Annual Salary (2015) $38,270* $49,430* $44,600*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need for a Career in Construction and Heavy Equipment?

Many employers of construction and heavy equipment operators require their employees to hold a high school diploma or equivalent. However, a high school diploma is not strictly required for a career in this field. Because some jobs might require you to haul construction equipment to worksites and back, possession of a commercial driver's license could be helpful to you.

Since hands-on training is especially important for the safe and effective operation of heavy equipment, you should consider completing a training program or apprenticeship. The International Union of Operating Engineers (IOUE) offers apprenticeship and training programs at hundreds of training facilities located throughout the United States and Canada (

You'll get paid while completing an IOUE apprenticeship program, and the typical apprenticeship takes approximately 3-4 years to complete. After you complete your apprenticeship, you could continue to take advanced training courses offered by the IOUE, which could help you stay up-to-date with the latest technology.

What Job Duties Might I Have?

You could expect to operate construction equipment, such as bulldozers, road graders, concrete paving machines and excavators, to name a few. You might operate equipment to clear out a construction site, level the earth at the site or transport heavy material from one location to another. You might also be responsible for inspecting equipment to ensure proper functioning, make minor repairs and perform maintenance operations.

What Salary Could I Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that paving, surfacing and tamping equipment operators earned a median annual salary of $38,270 in 2015 ( Pile-driver operators, on the other hand, earned $49,430 that year. According to the BLS, operating engineers and other construction equipment operators earned a median annual salary of $44,600 in May of 2015.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Agricultural workers are another group of workers who operate and maintain heavy equipment. They use this equipment to plant, tend and harvest crops, as well as tend to livestock. In addition to managing the work of these workers, farmers and ranchers also engage in many of the same tasks, working alongside their employees. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers operate tractor and trailer trucks that transport goods with a gross vehicle weight over 26,000 pounds. In all of these careers workers need to be able to not only operate but maintain their heavy equipment. Though there are exceptions, agriculture workers, farmers and ranchers don't have any education requirements, and heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers often have a post-secondary certificate.

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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