Become a Heavy Equipment Operator in 5 Steps
Special skills are needed to operate the bulldozers and backhoes used to excavate construction sites or to maneuver forklifts loaded with skids across warehouse floors. Learn about careers in heavy equipment operation and the training required to work in this field.
What Is A Heavy Equipment Operator?
Pile-driver operators and paving, surfacing and tamping operators are all heavy equipment operators. One of the most common places to see heavy equipment operators at work is on a road construction site. Heavy equipment operators are responsible for taking care of their equipment and keeping it clean, and they may even make simple repairs. They notify their supervisors of serious mechanical issues with the equipment. Heavy equipment operators must ensure all safety protocols are followed and coordinate their activities with other members of the construction crew. They can learn through on-the-job training, although it is also an option to complete a postsecondary certificate or apprenticeship to prepare for a career as a heavy equipment operator. Below, learn some details about a few careers you could seek in heavy equipment operation:
|Material Moving Machine Operator||Construction Equipment Operator|
|Training Required||High school diploma and on-the-job training||High school diploma and on-the-job training|
|Key Responsibilities||Control and operate various machines that move materials like earth and concrete||Operate construction equipment, follow safety standards|
|Licensure Requirements||Vary by state||May need CDL or other specialized license|
|Job Growth (2020-2030)*||7%||5%|
|Median Salary (2020)*||$37,450||$49,100|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Step 1: Research Heavy Equipment Operator Duties and Training
Heavy equipment operators work mostly in the construction field. They operate the machinery typically used to prepare sites for construction or maintenance. Machinery, according to a definition provided by the International Union of Operating Engineers, can include compressors, cranes, dredges, drills, hoists, pumps and rollers. Heavy equipment operators train through programs offered at community colleges or vocational schools and apprenticeship programs. They also complete on-the-job training.
Step 2: Consider an Education Program
Many community colleges and vocational schools offer programs in heavy equipment operation. Related programs include construction or construction management. However, programs in heavy equipment operation provide the most hands-on experience. Typical programs last eight weeks. Some last as long as 24 weeks. Students learn to operate and maintain various types of equipment.
Step 3: Find an Apprenticeship or an On-the-Job Training Program
Those who have no previous experience may complete on-the-job training or apprenticeship programs. The Employment and Training Administration and the Office of Apprenticeship Training, Employer, and Labor Services through the U.S. Department of Labor provide assistance in finding apprenticeship opportunities. Apprenticeships generally require a minimum of 2,000 hours of practical experience and 144 hours of instruction. Some programs also prepare operators for commercial driving licensure, which is required for many jobs.
Step 4: Get a Job
According to statistics provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of employed operating engineers and other heavy equipment operators in the construction industry is projected to grow by 5% from 2020 to 2030, which is slower-than-average job growth for that period. Job growth is sensitive to fluctuations in the economy, and the work is seasonal in some regions. Construction equipment operators in the construction industry earned a median annual salary of $49,100 in 2020.
Step 5: Consider Career Advancement
Some heavy equipment managers move up to roles of greater responsibility. According to the Center for National Construction Education and Research, a typical career path might progress from foreman to supervisor, project manager and then senior manager. A few heavy equipment operators may start up their own construction or contracting businesses.
What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?
Heavy and tractor trailer truck drivers are qualified to operate large motor vehicles to transport goods. Like heavy equipment operators, they need to maintain and clean their vehicles, as well as check for any issues. They need a commercial driver's license and a high school diploma, though many take specialized driving courses. Material moving machine operators operate special equipment used to move objects and materials. An example of such equipment is a forklift in a warehouse that moves boxes of goods for storage. Material moving machine operators learn through on-the-job training.