Crane Operator Careers

Crane operators use industrial cranes to safely lift and place objects or materials that are too large and heavy for human strength to handle.

The Greeks came up with this tool thousands of years ago, actually, sometime around 500 BC, though the machine has gone through significant evolutions since that time.

Today cranes are used in ports, manufacturing, and construction sites, and crane operators go wherever their cranes go. Their primary responsibility is operating the machine safely because this baby can cause huge damage, causing 90 deaths a year nationwide, in one way or another.

As a crane operator, you will have to inspect your crane and perform maintenance work on it regularly. You will have to wear PPT safety equipment while working and have a certification proving your familiarity with the machine. And you will have to pass drug tests, too, so don't even think about lighting up that doobie.

What Does a Crane Operator Do

Material moving machine operators use machinery to transport various objects. Some operators move construction materials around building sites or excavate earth from a mine. Others move goods around a warehouse or onto container ships.


Material moving machine operators typically do the following:

  • Set up and inspect material moving equipment
  • Control equipment with levers, wheels, or foot pedals
  • Move material according to a plan or schedule
  • Keep a record of the material they move and where they move it
  • Make minor repairs to their equipment

In warehouses, most material moving machine operators use forklifts and conveyor belts. Wireless sensors and tags are increasingly used to keep track of merchandise, allowing operators to locate them faster. Some operators also check goods for damage. These operators usually work closely with hand laborers and material movers.

Many operators work for underground and surface mining companies. They help to dig or expose the mine, remove the earth and rock, and extract coal, ore, and other mined materials.

In construction, material moving machine operators remove earth to clear space for buildings. Some work on a building site for the entire length of the construction project. For example, certain material moving machine operators help to construct highrise buildings by transporting materials to workers far above ground level.

All material moving machine operators are responsible for the safe operation of their equipment or vehicle.

Conveyor operators and tenders control conveyor systems that move materials on an automatic belt. They move materials to and from places such as storage areas, vehicles, and building sites. They monitor sensors on the conveyor to regulate the speed with which the conveyor belt moves. Operators may determine the route materials take along a conveyor based on shipping orders.

Crane and tower operators use tower and cable equipment to lift and move materials, machinery, or other heavy objects. From a control station, operators can extend and retract horizontal booms, rotate the superstructure, and lower and raise hooks attached to cables at the end of their crane or tower. Operators are usually guided by other workers on the ground using hand signals or voice signals through a radio. Most crane and tower operators work at construction sites or major ports, where they load and unload cargo. Some operators work in iron and steel mills. 

Dredge operators excavate waterways. They operate equipment on the water to remove sand, gravel, or rock from harbors or lakes. Removing these materials helps to prevent erosion and maintain navigable waterways, and allows larger ships to use more ports. Dredging is also used to help restore wetlands and maintain beaches.

Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators use machines equipped with scoops or shovels. They dig sand, earth, or other materials and load them onto conveyors or into trucks for transport elsewhere. They may also move material within a confined area, such as a construction site. Operators typically receive instructions from workers on the ground through hand signals or radios. Most of these operators work in construction or mining industries.

Hoist and winch operators, also called derrick operators, control the movement of platforms, cables, and cages that transport workers or materials for industrial operations, such as constructing a highrise building. Many of these operators raise platforms far above the ground. Operators regulate the speed of the equipment based on the needs of the workers. Many work in manufacturing, mining, and quarrying industries.

Industrial truck and tractor operators drive trucks and tractors that move materials around warehouses, storage yards, or worksites. These trucks, often called forklifts, have a lifting mechanism and forks, which make them useful for moving heavy and large objects. Some industrial truck and tractor operators drive tractors that pull trailers loaded with material around factories or storage areas.

Underground mining loading machine operators load coal, ore, and other rocks onto shuttles, mine cars, or conveyors for transport from a mine to the surface. They may use power shovels, hoisting engines equipped with scrapers or scoops, and automatic gathering arms that move materials onto a conveyor. Operators also drive their machines farther into the mine in order to gather more material.

How To Become a Crane Operator

Education and training requirements vary by the occupation. Crane operators and excavating machine operators usually have several years of experience in related occupations, such as construction equipment operators or hoist or winch operators.


Although no formal education is usually required, some companies prefer material moving machine operators to have a high school diploma. For crane operators, excavating machine operators, and dredge operators, however, a high school diploma or equivalent is typically required.


Most material moving machine operators are trained on the job in less than a month. Some machines are more complex than others, such as cranes as compared with industrial trucks such as forklifts. Therefore, the amount of time spent in training will vary with the type of machine the operator is using. Learning to operate a forklift or an industrial truck in warehouses, for example, may take only a few days. Training to operate a crane for port operations may take several months. Most workers are trained by a supervisor or another experienced employee.

The International Union of Operating Engineers offers apprenticeship programs for heavy equipment operators, such as excavating machine operators or crane operators. Apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job training with technical instruction.

During their training, material moving machine operators learn a number of safety rules, many of which are standardized through the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Employers must certify that each operator has received the proper training. Operators who work with hazardous materials receive further specialized training.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

A number of states and several cities require crane operators to be licensed. To get a license, operators typically must complete a skills test in which they show that they can control a crane. They also must pass a written exam that tests their knowledge of safety rules and procedures. Some crane operators and industrial truck and tractor operators may obtain certification, which includes passing a written exam.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Crane operators and excavating machine operators usually have several years of experience working as construction equipment operators or hoist and winch operators. 

Important Qualities

Alertness. Material moving machine operators must be aware of their surroundings while operating machinery.

Hand–eye–foot coordination. Material moving machine operators should have steady hands and feet to guide and control heavy machinery precisely. They use hand controls to maneuver their machines through tight spaces, around large objects, and on uneven surfaces.

Mechanical skills. Material moving machine operators make minor adjustments to their machines and perform basic maintenance.

Visual ability. Material moving machine operators must be able to clearly see where they are driving or what they are moving. They must also watch for nearby workers, who may unknowingly be in their path.

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Average Salary for a Crane Operator

Crane Operators in America make an average salary of $55,247 per year or $27 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $80,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $37,000 per year.
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Best Paying Cities For Crane Operators

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New York, NY
Salary Range54k - 95k$72k$71,963
Anaheim, CA
Salary Range47k - 78k$61k$60,958
Phoenix, AZ
Salary Range46k - 77k$60k$60,082
Pensacola, FL
Salary Range45k - 78k$59k$59,456
Richmond, VA
Salary Range44k - 75k$58k$57,800
Knoxville, TN
Salary Range44k - 75k$58k$57,621
Atlanta, GA
Salary Range43k - 75k$57k$57,370
Grand Forks, ND
Salary Range44k - 73k$57k$57,364
Waukesha, WI
Salary Range42k - 74k$57k$56,597
Lima, OH
Salary Range42k - 74k$56k$56,224
Baton Rouge, LA
Salary Range41k - 72k$55k$54,727
Columbia, MO
Salary Range39k - 66k$51k$51,309
San Antonio, TX
Salary Range38k - 66k$51k$51,022
Denver, CO
Salary Range38k - 61k$49k$48,599
Spartanburg, SC
Salary Range36k - 63k$48k$48,206

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Crane Operator Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming a Crane Operator. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

Learn How To Write a Crane Operator Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless Crane Operator resumes and compiled some information about how to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

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Crane Operator Demographics



90.6 %


5.9 %


3.5 %



69.3 %

Hispanic or Latino

15.3 %

Black or African American

11.3 %

Foreign Languages Spoken


68.0 %


6.8 %


3.9 %
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Crane Operator Education


19.3 %


High School Diploma

56.3 %


14.3 %


12.6 %
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OSHA Workplace Safety (General Industry 6 Hr Class)

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Top Skills For a Crane Operator

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 8.8% of crane operators listed nccco on their resume, but soft skills such as communication skills and mechanical skills are important as well.

Best States For a Crane Operator

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a crane operator. The best states for people in this position are New York, New Jersey, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. Crane operators make the most in New York with an average salary of $71,471. Whereas in New Jersey and Oregon, they would average $70,109 and $66,042, respectively. While crane operators would only make an average of $65,384 in Pennsylvania, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. New Jersey

Total Crane Operator Jobs:
Highest 10% Earn:
Location Quotient:
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. Iowa

Total Crane Operator Jobs:
Highest 10% Earn:
Location Quotient:
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Pennsylvania

Total Crane Operator Jobs:
Highest 10% Earn:
Location Quotient:
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
Full List Of Best States For Crane Operators

How Do Crane Operator Rate Their Jobs?

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What do you like the most about working as Crane Operator?

For is the most easiest way of carrying heavy loads that I like the most. Show More

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Top Crane Operator Employers

1. Turner Industries
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2. Fluor Corporation
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3. KBR
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4. U.S. Steel
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5. TNT Crane & Rigging
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6. United States Army
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Updated August 18, 2021