What Is the Salary for a Heavy Equipment Construction Operator?

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

What Does a Heavy Construction Operator Do?

Heavy construction operators control large equipment used in construction. Some are qualified to run multiple types of machines, while others specialize in the use of a single machine, such as a trench excavator, road grader, concrete-paver or pile-driver. In addition to directly operating the controls on heavy construction equipment, these workers are also responsible for routine maintenance, like cleaning and conducting basic repairs. Whether they are operating or maintaining equipment, they must be careful to follow all safety protocols in order to the safety of everyone on the construction site.

The table below outlines the general requirements for a career as a heavy equipment construction operator.

Education Required High school diploma
Training Required Apprenticeship program for best job prospects
Key Responsibilities Operate heavy equipment to transport heavy materials, plow snow, drill asphalt, fill loaders and tractors
Licensure Commercial driver's license, class B license
Job Growth (2014-2024) 10% (for all construction equipment operators)*
Average Salary (2015) $48,020 (for all construction equipment operators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What's a Heavy Equipment Construction Operator?

When you work as a heavy equipment construction operator, you use heavy equipment machinery such as drills, tractors, bulldozers and excavators to prepare the ground, break up the surface, and move and transport heavy materials. This can include plowing snow, compacting trash, drilling asphalt, harvesting, and filling loaders and tractors. You can also work operating fruit pickers or moving ground on excavation sites. Some government positions may also require you to perform mechanic, plumbing and small carpentry work.

What Skills Do I Need?

Employers look for qualified heavy equipment operators with a Commercial Drivers License (CDL). To operate heavy construction equipment, you must have a class B license, good driving record and high school diploma. Some experience in construction can be beneficial, but many employers will train qualified workers.

Since you work under strict project deadlines, anytime inclement weather hinders a typical work schedule, you must have a strong work ethic and the flexibility to work overtime and holidays.

How Do I Prepare for a Commercial Drivers Class B License Test?

Before you apply for the license, you need to undergo a health examination and provide the Department of Transportation (DOT) with a medical certificate. Depending on the state you live in, you must be at least 18 or 21 years of age and have a clean driving record to apply. Once you have turned in your finished application and medical examination records, you can apply for a 2-year CDL driving permit and begin your on the road practice. You have until your CDL permit expires to take the driving test. To pass the written examination, you need to study the commercial driver's manual, which is available at your state's DMV office or website.

The test takes approximately an hour to complete and is comprised of a written test and three road skills components. During the on the road component, your examiner will ask you to identify various parts of the equipment and its functions, as well as perform numerous equipment operations before you move on to the final driving component.

How Do I Get Equipment Training?

It's generally accepted that formal training provides you with a more comprehensive set of skills. Training is available in paid 3-year apprenticeship programs administered by the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE). While employers will offer their employees hands-on training, candidates who have gone through the apprentice program learn to operate a wider selection of machinery and typically have better employment options.

How Much Will I Make?

In May 2015, median hourly wages of construction equipment operators were $20.92, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). According to the BLS, the mean hourly wage was $23.09 the same year.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of operating heavy construction equipment, you could get a job operating heavy equipment for a different purpose. For instance, as a crane operator at a major port, you would use a crane to move cargo on and off ships and barges. Alternatively, if you are interested in machine maintenance, you could become a heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technician. In this job, you would inspect vehicles, perform scheduled maintenance and diagnose and repair major malfunctions. To work as either an operator or a technician, you need to have at least a high school diploma.

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