Tower Crane Jobs: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for tower crane operators. Get the facts about training requirements, salary and job outlook to determine if this is the right career for you.

What Is a Tower Crane Operator?

A tower crane operator, often called either a crane operator or tower operator, uses machines that lift and move materials and machines. Often, they work at construction sites, where they use tower and cable equipment to help build bridges, houses and other structures. Many operators also work at ports, where cranes are used to load and unload goods from cargo ships. In addition to operating their machines, these professionals are also required to keep careful records of the items they move, and to make minor repairs to the equipment when necessary. Tower crane operators may work in the profession after getting experience in related machine operator roles.

Read on to learn what training and certification you may need to land a job as a tower crane operator.

Training Required High school diploma and on-the-job training; apprenticeships are available
Key Skills Dexterity, mechanical ability, physical stamina, attention to detail
Licensure/Certification Licensure may be a state requirement; certification is voluntary
Job Growth (2018-2028) 5% (for all crane and tower operators)*
Median Salary (2018) $54,140 (for all crane and tower operators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Tower Crane Operator Do?

As a tower crane operator, you can work in the construction or shipping industries. According to the Occupational Information Network, tower crane operators inspect crane mechanisms, unload bundles from trucks, weigh parcels and lubricate lifting accessories ( You may also adjust rigging according to load size and shape.

What Kind of Training Is Available?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, material movers like tower crane operators receive most of their training on the job ( However, formal training opportunities are available through labor organizations such as the International Union of Operating Engineers ( Its 3-4 year apprenticeship training programs allow you to operate heavy equipment alongside experienced crane operators in classroom settings, labs, and construction sites.

Some community colleges or technical schools may also offer training courses. Topics of discussion include rigging, crane operations, boom assembly and load capacity. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards and safety requirements may also be discussed. Programs can also prepare students for written and practical certification exams.

What About Certification?

According to February 2011 job postings on, many employers require applicants to be professionally certified. The National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) offers a tower crane operator certification ( To qualify for the certification, you must be at least 18 years old, be in good health and pass a drug test. You must then pass both the multiple-choice and practical examinations before you can become certified.

Your certification is valid for five years, and you must apply for recertification 12 months prior to its expiration. The recertification requirements include a written exam and proof of compliance with the NCCCO's ethics and substance abuse policies.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of focusing your career on the operation of crane and tower equipment, you could specialize in the use of a different material moving machine. For instance, as a dredge operator, you would use equipment to excavate waterways by moving sand, gravel and rocks from bodies of water. If you want to get a job on a road-building construction site, you could specialize in operating tamping or paving equipment. Such a job would require you to have a high school diploma.