Heavy Equipment Machinery Jobs: Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become a heavy equipment machinery operator. Learn about education requirements, job duties, median wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Heavy Equipment degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Heavy Equipment Machine Operator Do?

As you work with heavy equipment machinery, you might use ground excavation machines to dig large amounts of dirt, sand or gravel and transport it onto trucks. You might also need to know how to inspect and maintain the equipment you operate. In the case of operating engineering, you can expect to operate machines such as bulldozers, road graders, and trench excavators. Expect to perform maintenance on, and work with pumps and air compressors as well. Material movers such as crane operators use their equipment to transport massive material in construction sites, ports, steel mills and iron mills, and can pick up communication through radios and hand signals.

Considering the information in the following table to determine if a career as a heavy equipment machinery operator is right for you.

Operating Engineer Tower Crane Operator
Education Required High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Training Required Apprenticeships common On-the-job training
Key Skills Hand-eye-foot coordination, mechanical Dexterity, alertness
Licensure State license required State license required
Job Growth (2014-2024) 10% (for all operating engineers and other construction equipment operators)* 8% (for all crane and tower operators)*
Median Salary $44,600(for all operating engineers and other construction equipment operators in 2015)* $58,975 (in 2017)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **Payscale.com

To operate heavy equipment and machinery, you can take high school classes in auto mechanics, mechanical drawing, electronics, science and computers. Postsecondary education is usually not required, and employers often provide you with on-the-job training with experienced workers.

You can also acquire training through participation in a paid apprenticeship program that includes classroom, simulator and hands-on instruction. These can last several years. Apprenticeship programs that train you on a variety of heavy machines and equipment, such as that provided by the International Union of Operating Engineers, could increase your job prospects.

Academic and apprenticeship programs for heavy equipment operation are also available through some vocational schools and community colleges. A certificate-granting program might encompass subjects in environmental compliance, safety and first aid and advanced operating procedures. Depending on your program, you could learn how to operate backhoes and excavators, bulldozers, scraper, loaders, welding torches or graders. You might be required to obtain a state-issued commercial driver's license to operate some of the vehicles.

What Are Some Typical Job Duties?

Your job duties depend on the specific heavy equipment you can successfully operate and your experience level with the equipment. As a construction equipment engineer, you might use ground excavation machines to dig large amounts of dirt, sand or gravel and transport it onto trucks. You might also need to know how to inspect and maintain the equipment you operate. If you work on a work crew as a paving equipment operator or pile driver, you'll need to know what equipment to use to spread asphalt on roadways or hammer heavy steel support beams into the ground. These jobs require excellent communication and safety skills, as well as the ability to work well with other construction members.

Do I Need Certification/Licensure?

For insurance purposes, certification might be required by some companies. You can obtain certain certifications through professional organizations, such as the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators or the National Association of Heavy Equipment Training Schools. Additionally, some academic programs include training and testing for safety certifications, offered through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. You might require a state license to operate some heavy equipment, such as articulating or overhead cranes.

What Are Possible Salaries?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction equipment operators and engineers earned a median salary of $44,600 in 2015 (www.bls.gov). Those who worked in highway and bridge construction averaged $54,840 that year. Due to the precision of the job, crane operators typically earned higher wages, with the highest-earning tower crane professionals reporting annual median wages over $107,562 in Janurary 2017, according to PayScale.com.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Aside from construction and crane operation, work exists for those with a high school diploma in water transportation, where workers maintain and utilize transportation equipment that takes people and supplies across bodies of water. Tractor-trailer truck drivers move goods and products from one area on land to another, often across several state lines. Unlike regular delivery drivers, tractor-trailers haul weight that typically exceeds thirteen tons. They also need a high school diploma.

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