How Can I Become an Equipment Operator?

Research what it takes to become an equipment operator. Learn about education requirements, job duties, median salaries and job outlooks 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 an Equipment Operator?

Equipment operators are experts in controlling specialized machines in a wide range of industries and job duties. Some equipment operators operate forklifts at manufacturing plants; others harvest equipment in agricultural settings; and many run machines on construction sites. In addition to operating the controls on these machines, workers may also be responsible for cleaning their equipment and performing routine maintenance. They may also be required to record all operations in a log. Below is a table listing information for only a few of the jobs that require an individual to operate equipment.

Material Moving Machine Operators Agricultural Equipment Operators Operating Engineers and Other Construction Equipment Operators
Degree Requirements High school diploma N/A High school diploma
Licensure Varies N/A Varies
Key Responsibilities Operate and maintain backhoes, cranes and hoists Operate agricultural equipment Operate and maintain construction equipment
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3% 5% 10% (all construction equipment operators)
Median Salary (2015)* $30,090 (all transportation and material moving occupations) $27,840 $44,600

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Jobs Are Available for Equipment Operators?

Equipment operator jobs are available in industries that involve materials transport from one location to another. Equipment operators often work for construction companies, logging companies, grocery chains, department stores and independent trucking companies. Common equipment types include backhoes, bulldozers, pile drivers, winches, hoists, cranes, trucks, loaders and pavers.

What Are Some of the Job Duties?

Equipment operators use machinery to load and unload a variety of materials, including dirt, concrete, wood, refrigerated products, food products and hazardous materials. You might be responsible for inspecting, repairing and maintaining equipment. Specific duties are based on the type of equipment you operate and the industry in which you work.

For example, construction equipment operators may pave roads, dig ditches, even out land for new building construction, load materials onto trucks, break up pavement and demolish buildings. Logging equipment operators may cut up logs into smaller pieces, clear trees and load trucks with cut lumber. Agricultural equipment operators may plow fields, transport crops or animals, harvest crops and spray fields with fertilizer.

What Requirements Must I Meet?

Most equipment operators only need a high school diploma or GED in order to secure employment. Many employers offer on-the-job training; in some cases, apprenticeship programs may be available through a professional organization. Some community and vocational colleges offer certificate programs for aspiring equipment operators.

In some states, equipment operators need to obtain special licensing. For example, truck drivers may need a commercial driver's license; crane operators may also need to be licensed. You can usually earn licensure by successfully completing a written exam in addition to a skills test.

You may need to attend an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training session if your work involves the transport or use of hazardous materials. OSHA training is offered through employers and focuses on safety in the workplace.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of working as an equipment operator, you could get a job as a heavy equipment repairer. In this job, you would be responsible for diagnosing problems with machines and figuring out how to fix them. A high school diploma is the minimum educational requirement, but postsecondary training is preferred. Another closely related occupation is a job as a heavy truck driver. These drivers operate vehicles that weigh over 26,000 pounds and transport goods for long distances. For this job, you need to have a high school diploma, a commercial driver's license and you also need to complete a professional training program.

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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