Jobs in Materials Handling and Heavy Machinery

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in materials handling and heavy machinery. Read on to learn more about career options along with education requirements and salary information. Schools offering Heavy Equipment degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Materials Handling and Heavy Machinery Careers Are Available?

Materials movers and heavy machinery operators control the machinery that transports construction materials. Some possible options in this field include hand laborers and material movers, excavating, loading machine and dragline operators, and operating engineers and construction equipment operators.

Hand laborers and material movers use their hands to move items from place to place, while keeping records of what they move and where to. They wrap products by hand to prepare them for movement, and they may also clean workplaces and equipment.

Excavating, loading machine and dragline operators operate equipment that moves earth and other materials. This may include power shovels, stripping shovels, scraper loaders and backhoes. Like all heavy equipment operators, they are responsible for maintaining their equipment and notifying supervisors if repairs are needed. Working with other crew members, they need to learn and use hand signals and grade stakes.

Operating engineers and construction equipment operators also operate excavation and loading machines. They operate smaller equipment as well, such as trench excavators, road graders, forklifts and booms. As with other equipment operators, they need to be able to maintain their equipment and coordinate with other crew members.

The table below outlines the general requirements for these career options.

Hand Laborers and Material Movers Excavating, Loading Machine and Dragline Operators Operating Engineers and Other Construction Equipment Operators
Education Required High school diploma High school diploma High school diploma
Training Requirements On-the-job training Work experience or apprenticeship program Work experience or apprentice program most common
Key Responsibilities Manually move materials, hand-pack or hand-wrap materials, keep records of materials moved Operate machinery with attached apparatus, dig up large amounts of earth or sand, set up or inspect equipment Operate excavation or load machinery, drive industrial trucks or tractors, operate air compressors or pumps
Licensure Commercial driver's license may be required Licensure may be required Commercial driver's license required
Job Growth (2014-2024) 5%* 6%* 10%*
Median Salary (2015) $24,090* $40,050* $44,600*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are Some Jobs in Materials Handling and Heavy Machinery?

Laborers in these industries are responsible for moving freight and goods by hand or placing materials into machinery with the help of specialized equipment. In the materials handling industry, you might work as an excavation, loading machine and dragline operator. These workers operate machinery with attached apparatus such as buckets and shovels. These tools are then used to dig up large amounts of earth or sand for transfer onto trucks.

As a crane and tower operator, you might use cables to lift heavy equipment with the guidance of other construction crew members. Pump operators utilize pump systems to transport oil and gas to other equipment. Hoist and winch operators control cages and platforms that are capable of transporting work crews or material goods.

As a hand packer, you could inspect goods, wrap packages and stack materials. Factory laborers may transport materials from one loading dock to another; laborers in the transportation industry might handle cargo or passengers' baggage.

What Education and Training Will I Need?

Generally, heavy machinery workers require no formal education beyond high school; many acquire their skills through on-the-job training programs. The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) offers formal training through its apprenticeship programs at dozens of facilities across the U.S. These programs may lead to work as a heavy machinery operator in the environmental, construction or pipeline industries.

Training involves classroom instruction and the use of computerized simulators. The cost of training through IUOE is free for its union members. These training programs may last for up to three years.

You could also find certificate programs for heavy construction equipment operators in community colleges or vocational schools. These programs may offer courses such as industrial and construction safety, gas and diesel engines, forklift operation, bulldozer operation and welding theory.

If your work involves the use of potentially dangerous equipment or chemicals, your employer may offer additional training in safety procedures, as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Your employer may evaluate you at regular intervals to ensure that your safety knowledge is up to date.

How Much Money Could I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), excavating and loading machine and dragline operators earned a median annual salary of $40,050 as of 2015. The BLS also reported that operating engineers and construction equipment operators earned approximately $44,600 in 2015. Hand laborers and material movers earned a median annual wage of $24,090 in the same year, the BLS noted.

Salaries varied for workers in material moving occupations depending on duties as well as experience level. According to the most recent data available, those who belonged to unions generally earned larger salaries.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

The agriculture industry is another industry that relies on heavy equipment. Farmers, ranchers and agriculture workers are all professionals that use and maintain this equipment when caring for crops and livestock. These professionals may get by with less than a high school diploma if needed, though postsecondary education is often valuable. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers operate and maintain trucks that carry loads with gross vehicle weights over 26,000 pounds. They typically have a postsecondary certificate.

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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