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Become An Excavator Operator

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Working As An Excavator Operator

  • Operating Vehicles, Mechanized Devices, or Equipment
  • Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Material
  • Getting Information
  • Controlling Machines and Processes
  • Monitor Processes, Materials, or Surroundings
  • Outdoors/walking/standing

  • Unpleasant/Hazardous Environment

  • Repetitive

  • $68,686

    Average Salary

What Does An Excavator Operator Do

Construction equipment operators drive, maneuver, or control the heavy machinery used to construct roads, bridges, buildings, and other structures.

Duties

Construction equipment operators typically do the following:

  • Clean and maintain equipment, making basic repairs as necessary
  • Report malfunctioning equipment to supervisors
  • Move levers, push pedals, or turn valves to control equipment
  • Drive and maneuver equipment
  • Coordinate machine actions with crew members using hand or audio signals
  • Ensure that safety standards are met

Construction equipment operators use machinery to move construction materials, earth, and other heavy materials at construction sites and mines. They operate equipment that clears and grades land to prepare it for the construction of roads, bridges, and buildings, as well as runways, power generation facilities, dams, levees, and other structures.

Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators work with one or several types of power construction equipment. They may operate excavation and loading machines equipped with scoops, shovels, or buckets that dig sand, gravel, earth, or similar materials. In addition to operating bulldozers, they operate trench excavators, road graders, and similar equipment. Sometimes, they may drive and control industrial trucks or tractors equipped with forklifts or booms for lifting materials. They may also operate and maintain air compressors, pumps, and other power equipment at construction sites.

Paving and surfacing equipment operators control the machines that spread and level asphalt or spread and smooth concrete for roadways or other structures.

  • Asphalt spreader operators turn valves to regulate the temperature and flow of asphalt being applied to the roadbed. They must ensure a constant flow of asphalt into the hopper and that the machine distributes the paving material evenly.
  • Concrete paving machine operators control levers and turn handwheels to move attachments that spread, vibrate, and level wet concrete. They must watch the surface of the concrete carefully to identify low spots that need additional concrete.
  • Tamping equipment operators use machines that compact earth and other fill materials for roadbeds, railroads, or other construction sites. They may also operate machines with interchangeable hammers to cut or break up old pavement and drive guardrail posts into the ground.

Pile-driver operators use large machines mounted on skids, barges, or cranes to hammer piles into the ground. Piles are long, heavy beams of concrete, wood, or steel driven into the ground to support retaining walls, bridges, piers, or building foundations. Some pile-driver operators work on offshore oil rigs.

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How To Become An Excavator Operator

Many workers learn equipment operation on the job after earning a high school diploma or equivalent, while others learn through an apprenticeship or by attending vocational schools.

Education

A high school diploma or equivalent is required for most jobs. Vocational training and math courses are useful, and a course in auto mechanics can be helpful because workers often perform maintenance on their equipment. 

Education at a private vocational school may be beneficial in finding a job, and the variety of construction equipment that is taught varies from school to school. However, people considering this kind of training should check the school’s reputation among employers in the area and find out if the school offers the opportunity to train on actual machines in realistic situations.

Many training facilities incorporate sophisticated simulators into their training, allowing beginners to familiarize themselves with the equipment in a virtual environment before operating real machines.

Training

Many workers learn their jobs by operating light equipment under the guidance of an experienced operator. Later, they may operate heavier equipment, such as bulldozers. Technologically advanced construction equipment with computerized controls requires greater skill to operate. Operators of such equipment may need more training and some understanding of electronics.

Other workers learn their trade through a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship. For each year of the program, apprentices must have at least 144 hours of technical instruction and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. On the job, apprentices learn to maintain equipment, operate machinery, and use special technology, such as a Global Positioning System (GPS). In the classroom, apprentices learn operating procedures for special equipment, safety practices, and first aid, as well as how to read grading plans. Because apprentices learn to operate a wider variety of machines than do other beginners, they usually have better job opportunities.

A few groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. Some apprenticeship programs have preferred entry for veterans. The basic qualifications for entering an apprenticeship program are as follows:

  • Minimum age of 18
  • High school education or equivalent
  • Physically able to do the work
  • Valid driver’s license

After completing an apprenticeship program, apprentices are considered journey workers and perform tasks with less guidance.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Construction equipment operators often need a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to haul their equipment to various jobsites. State laws governing CDLs vary.

A few states have special licenses for operators of backhoes, loaders, and bulldozers.

Currently, 17 states require pile-driver operators to have a crane license because similar operational concerns apply to both pile-drivers and cranes. In addition, the cities of Chicago, New Orleans, New York, Omaha, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC require special crane licensure.

Important Qualities

Hand–eye–foot coordination. Construction equipment operators should have steady hands and feet to guide and control heavy machinery precisely, sometimes in tight spaces.

Mechanical skills. Construction equipment operators often perform basic maintenance on the equipment they operate. As a result, they should be familiar with hand and power tools and standard equipment care.

Physical strength. Construction equipment operators may be required to lift more than 50 pounds as part of their duties.

Unafraid of heights. Construction equipment operators may work at great heights. For example, pile-driver operators may need to service the pulleys located at the top of the pile-driver’s tower, which may be several stories tall.

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Excavator Operator Demographics

Gender

Male

93.5%

Female

5.0%

Unknown

1.5%
Ethnicity

White

67.0%

Hispanic or Latino

13.5%

Black or African American

10.4%

Asian

5.6%

Unknown

3.6%
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Languages Spoken

Spanish

57.1%

Polish

28.6%

Turkish

14.3%

Excavator Operator Education

Schools

Texas A&M University

6.1%

North Idaho College

6.1%

Ashworth College

6.1%

Wilson Technical Community College

6.1%

Tulsa Welding School

6.1%

New River Community College

6.1%

Hobart Institute of Welding Technology

6.1%

Southwest Virginia Community College

6.1%

HDS Truck Driving Institute

6.1%

University of Louisiana at Lafayette

6.1%

Wharton County Junior College

6.1%

Jefferson Community College

6.1%

Weber State University

6.1%

Northland Pioneer College

3.0%

Baton Rouge Community College

3.0%

Marshall University

3.0%

Vatterott College - Fairview Heights

3.0%

Mercer County Career Center

3.0%

Morrison Institute of Technology

3.0%

Northeast Texas Community College

3.0%
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Majors

Heavy/Industrial Equipment Maintenance Technologies

16.4%

Business

13.3%

General Studies

9.4%

Electrical Engineering Technology

7.0%

Automotive Technology

7.0%

Precision Metal Working

4.7%

Heating And Air Conditioning

4.7%

Drafting And Design

3.9%

Graphic Communications

3.9%

Industrial Technology

3.9%

Forestry

3.9%

Mining Engineering

3.1%

Education

3.1%

Medical Technician

2.3%

Management

2.3%

Environmental Control Technologies/Technicians

2.3%

Project Management

2.3%

Criminal Justice

2.3%

Construction Management

2.3%

Sociology

1.6%
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Degrees

Other

51.8%

Certificate

15.2%

Associate

14.1%

Bachelors

11.0%

Diploma

5.2%

License

1.6%

Masters

0.5%

Doctorate

0.5%
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Top Skills for An Excavator Operator

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  1. Dozer
  2. Safety
  3. Heavy Equipment
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Experience as an excavator/bulldozer operator in the mining and reclamation fields.
  • Supervised direct laborers and ensured all safety and installation procedures were adhered to.
  • Perform preventative and general maintenance on heavy equipment.
  • Operated ten wheel dump truck and bobtail dump truck with a trailer.
  • Inspected, repaired and overhauled all equipment including heavy machinery.

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Top Excavator Operator Employers

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