How Do I Become an Excavator Operator?

Research what it takes to become an excavator operator. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average 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 an Excavator Operator?

Excavator operators control heavy equipment used to move earth and other materials. They often find jobs at construction sites, where they operate excavators under the direction of a supervisor and in conjunction with the activities of other construction workers. In addition to operating this machinery, they also perform routine maintenance and inform the supervisor when major repairs are required. Excavators also carefully adhere to safety protocols in order to protect the safety of everyone on the construction site.

The following chart gives you an overview about entering this field.

Degree Required High school diploma
Training Required On-the-job training or apprenticeship programs are available
Key Responsibilities Operate excavator to dig holes and move dirt in specified construction locations; maintain and clean equipment and perform minor repairs; follow all safety requirements
Licensure and/or Certification A commercial driver's license may be required to haul the excavator to construction sites
Job Growth (2014-2024)*6% (for all excavating, loading machine and dragline operators)
Median Salary (2015)* $40,050 (for all excavating, loading machine and dragline operators)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Excavator Operator Job Description

An excavator operator uses heavy construction equipment to load earth, debris and other rubble onto trucks or conveyors to remove them from a construction site. Additional duties you may include following safety standards and working in coordination with other machine operators or workers. You may also do work not involved with operating the excavator, such as shoving, lifting and directing traffic.

You will typically work outside and work availability relies on the weather conditions. During severe weather, you may not work for weeks or months at a time. You may be required to work in varying temperatures, and exposure to excessive noise and dust is common.

What Training Do I Need?

Most employers require a high school diploma for excavator operators. You may wish to get formal training through a certificate program for heavy equipment operators, which offers training in operating various heavy equipment, safety procedures and regulations, equipment maintenance and construction terminology.

Apprenticeship programs are another training option, offered through colleges, employers, government agencies and professional organizations. The International Union of Operational Engineers (IUOE) offers a heavy equipment operator program, which includes classroom and hands-on training, giving you the chance to gain experience operating an excavator (

The standard apprenticeship lasts 2-3 years and is open to anyone over the age of 18 who has a high school diploma. Most employers offer on-the-job training, regardless of other training you may have, which teaches you about their procedures and policies, as well as safety training.

What Is the Job Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment excavator operators is expected to grow by 6% from 2014 to 2024 ( The BLS predicts that job growth will be fueled by an increase in upgrades to roadways and water systems, as well as new construction projects. Gaining training in more than one type of heavy equipment can help you find employment more easily, notes the BLS.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of specializing in the use of an excavator, you could also become an operator of a different type of construction machinery, such as paving equipment, tamping equipment or pile-drivers. You need a high school diploma and practical training to get any heavy machine operator job. Another position that may be of interest is a job as a heavy truck driver. In this occupation, you would drive trucks over 26,000 pounds in order to transport commercial goods from one location to another. For this job, you need to have a high school diploma and 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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