How Can I Become a Construction Equipment Operator?

Explore the career requirements for construction equipment operators. Get the facts about education and training, job outlook, and salary statistics to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Heavy Equipment degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Construction Equipment Operator?

Construction equipment operators use heavy construction equipment to perform tasks on construction sites. They may use a pile-driver to insert beams into the earth that are used for foundations or piers, or they may use an asphalt spreader as part of the process of paving a road. Other equipment they may operate includes bulldozers, tractors, cranes and road graders. Construction equipment operators need good hand-eye coordination to operate equipment safely through construction sites. They also need mechanical skills, because their responsibilities include maintaining the equipment they use and performing repairs as needed. They also need to be aware of safety standards and follow them.

Degree Required High school diploma at minimum; associate degree or certificate recommended
Training Required Apprenticeship or on-the-job training
Key Responsibilities Operating heavy machinery, moving construction materials, maintaining equipment
Job Growth (2014-2024) 10% for all construction equipment operators*
Median Annual Wage (2015) $43,810 for all construction equipment operators*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Job Duties of a Construction Equipment Operator?

Specific job duties might include operating machinery around construction markers, clearing land, digging trenches and moving construction materials from one location to another. You need to know how to use the controls to move the machine, along with how to perform basic machine maintenance.

What Training is Available?

You might complete a formal apprenticeship program and learn the skills of the trade from a supervisor or skilled professional. Alternatively, you may learn the trade through an on-the-job training program.

Community colleges and technical schools offer certificate or associate's degree program in heavy equipment operation that should prepare you to enter into an apprenticeship or training program with a construction or contracting firm. You learn the basic operating procedures and safety regulations inherent in working at a construction site. You also gain practical experience (by completing an internship) in operating the controls of graders, dozers, excavators, backhoes and other types of equipment. Some academic programs also include courses in maintenance and upkeep of heavy equipment, welding and workplace emergencies.

What Might the Salary be Like?

If you work as a construction equipment operator, your salary might vary depending upon the specific types of machines you are qualified to operate. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that operating engineers manning machines like bulldozers, scrapers and tractors held earned a median annual salary of $44,600 in May of 2015. Crane and tower operators, meanwhile, earned a median annual salary of $51,650 in that same year.

Material moving machine operators and heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers perform some duties that have some similarities to the work that heavy equipment construction workers do. Material moving machine operators use machinery to move objects. An example is someone using an excavator to remove dirt from a mine. No formal training is required, although many employers prefer to hire those with a high school diploma. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers transport cargo over long distances. They need a CDL license.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers and material moving machine operators have many similarities to construction equipment operators. A material moving machine operator may use an excavator to remove earth from a mine. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers use large vehicles to move shipments by road. They need to be skilled at using large equipment, and they also need to maintain their equipment and perform repairs as needed, which is similar to the duties of a construction equipment operator. Material moving machine operators and heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers need a high school diploma; heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers also need a CDL license.

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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  • Penn Foster High School

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  • Washington-Holmes Technical Center

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  • Washburn Institute of Technology

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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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  • Santiago Canyon College

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    • California: Orange