How Can I Become a Backhoe Operator?

Research what it takes to become a backhoe operator. Learn about training requirements, job duties, 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 Is a Backhoe Operator?

A backhoe operator is a construction worker who specializes in driving and operating backhoes, which are heavy construction machines that are commonly used to move large amounts of earth or to dig holes and trenches. Operators follow the instruction of construction supervisors to move dirt or dig holes needed for the construction of buildings, roads, bridges and other structures. They also perform routine maintenance and report major malfunctions. In addition, operators are responsible for making sure that all safety protocols are followed, such as coordinating with other construction workers using hand signals.

The following chart gives you an overview about becoming a backhoe operator.

Degree Required High school diploma
Training Required On-the-job training, vocational school and apprenticeships are available
Key Skills Hand-eye-foot coordination; ability to follow blueprints or excavation specifications; mechanical ability
Licensure and/or Certification Commercial driver's license may be required to transport equipment; some states require operator's license for backhoes
Job Growth (2014-2024) 10% for all construction equipment operators*
Median Salary (2017) $45,723 for heavy equipment operators**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale

What Training Programs for Backhoe Operators Are Available?

Those who operate backhoes and other construction equipment typically learn their skills on the job--but a number of community colleges and university extension services offer training. This may come in the form of either a specific backhoe program or as part of a heavy equipment operator program. Enrollment requires a high school diploma or GED certificate. Topics covered in backhoe training might include startup and shutdown procedures, terminology, controls, service check procedures, maintenance procedures, operator safety, backhoe transportation and safety regulations. In a heavy equipment program, you may also learn to use wheel loaders, forklifts and bulldozers.

What Duties Will I Have?

Your main duty is to remove earth from a predetermined location by working the levers that control the scoop of a backhoe. Usually you dig a straight trench for a foundation, water main, power lines or other infrastructure that needs to be buried. Prior to digging, you may need to visually assess whether the digging location is properly marked. Your other responsibilities may include some maintenance of equipment and training other crewmembers in backhoe operations and safety. With seniority and knowledge of local traffic laws and ordinances for heavy equipment, you may become a crew leader.

What Salary Could I Earn?

While figures for backhoe operators were not specifically available, heavy equipment operators earned a median salary of $60,771, according to as of 2017. PayScale reports that 80 percent of those working as heavy machine operators earned roughly $27,553-$79,162.

What's the Career Outlook in the Field?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that approximately 355,140 people worked as operating engineers and other construction equipment operators as of 2015. Around 24% worked in the ''other specialty trade contractor'' industry, 13% worked in local government, and 12% worked in highway, street and bridge construction. The BLS projects an expected increase of 10% for the employment of all construction equipment operators from 2014-2024 ( Demand for backhoe operators should arise from population growth and the accompanying need for expanded electrical, water and sewer systems.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of operating a backhoe, you could also consider operating different type of heavy equipment, such as paving equipment, taping equipment or pile-drivers. For one of these jobs, you need to have a high school diploma and on-the-job training. Another related occupation is a job as a heavy truck driver. Truck drivers operate large trucks to transport goods for long distances. They need to have a high school diploma and complete a professional training program before they can work.

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  • Penn Foster High School

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  • Washington-Holmes Technical Center

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    • Florida: Chipley
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  • Washburn Institute of Technology

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    • Kansas: Topeka
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    • Utah: Roosevelt
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  • Somerset County Technology Center

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  • The University of Montana

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    • California: Orange