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Become A Heavy Equipment Operator

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Working As A Heavy Equipment 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

  • $44,580

    Average Salary

What Does A Heavy Equipment 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 A Heavy Equipment 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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Heavy Equipment Operator jobs

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Heavy Equipment Operator Typical Career Paths

Average Length of Employment
Foreman/Operator 4.4 years
Equipment Operator 3.5 years
Bulldozer Operator 3.4 years
Crusher Operator 3.3 years
Operator 2.8 years
Loader Operator 2.7 years
Excavator Operator 2.7 years
Labour Operator 2.5 years
Top Employers Before
Operator 8.0%
Foreman 6.2%
Welder 5.7%
Supervisor 4.5%
Driver 4.3%
Mechanic 3.9%
Carpenter 3.0%
Owner 3.0%
Technician 2.7%
Top Employers After
Truck Driver 10.6%
Operator 7.0%
Foreman 6.1%
Driver 5.9%
Welder 4.9%
Supervisor 4.2%
Technician 3.4%
Owner 3.2%
Mechanic 3.1%

Heavy Equipment Operator Demographics

Gender

Male

93.1%

Female

6.0%

Unknown

0.9%
Ethnicity

White

82.3%

Hispanic or Latino

10.5%

Asian

5.5%

Unknown

1.2%

Black or African American

0.5%
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Languages Spoken

Spanish

75.4%

Carrier

4.8%

French

2.8%

Dakota

2.8%

German

2.4%

Portuguese

1.6%

Thai

1.2%

Japanese

1.2%

Polish

1.2%

Filipino

0.8%

Russian

0.8%

Finnish

0.8%

Italian

0.8%

Chinese

0.8%

Marshallese

0.4%

Swedish

0.4%

Turkish

0.4%

Samoan

0.4%

Mandarin

0.4%

Hmong

0.4%
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Heavy Equipment Operator Education

Schools

University of Phoenix

15.1%

Universal Technical Institute

8.0%

Community College of the Air Force

7.8%

Central Texas College

7.4%

The Academy

6.5%

Vincennes University

4.9%

Ashford University

4.8%

Kaplan University

4.6%

Liberty University

4.5%

Tulsa Welding School

4.0%

Pima Community College

3.7%

Butte College

3.5%

Columbia Southern University

3.4%

Lamar University

3.2%

Hocking College

3.2%

Trident Technical College

3.1%

Baton Rouge Community College

3.1%

Palomar College

3.1%

Del Mar College

3.1%

Texas A&M University

3.1%
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Majors

Business

18.8%

Heavy/Industrial Equipment Maintenance Technologies

10.0%

General Studies

9.3%

Automotive Technology

9.1%

Precision Metal Working

7.7%

Criminal Justice

7.5%

Education

3.9%

Electrical Engineering Technology

3.8%

Computer Science

3.4%

Construction Management

3.2%

Management

2.9%

Electrical Engineering

2.9%

Industrial Technology

2.8%

Environmental Control Technologies/Technicians

2.6%

Drafting And Design

2.3%

Fire Science And Protection

2.1%

Accounting

2.0%

Engineering

2.0%

Heating And Air Conditioning

2.0%

Civil Engineering

1.9%
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Degrees

Other

51.9%

Associate

15.6%

Bachelors

15.0%

Certificate

11.1%

Diploma

2.9%

Masters

2.5%

License

0.8%

Doctorate

0.2%
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Internship
Temporary

Real Heavy Equipment Operator Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Lead Heavy Equipment Operator Shelton Federal Group, LLC Washington, DC Jan 29, 2015 $55,890
Heavy Equipment Operator Joseph J. Magnolia, Inc. Washington, DC Feb 27, 2012 $55,099
Heavy Equipment Operator Tim's Tree Service, Inc. Lexington, TN May 15, 2014 $44,871
Heavy Equipment Operator Coleman Construction Hazlehurst, MS Jan 10, 2015 $42,016
Heavy Equipment Operator Chris Dowden Forestry LA Apr 15, 2015 $41,093
Mason & Heavy Equipment Operator All Pro Contracting, L.L.C. Sep 17, 2008 $40,175
Heavy Equipment Operator Planted Earth Inc. Carbondale, CO May 22, 2009 $38,630
Heavy Equipment Operator Chaparral West Inc. Grand Junction, CO Feb 29, 2008 $30,282
Heavy Equipment Operator-Leveler Victor Produce of New Mexico, Inc. Animas, NM Dec 19, 2016 $29,740
Heavy Equipment Operator Island Construction Co. Inc. Charleston, SC May 19, 2009 $29,218 -
$30,262
Heavy Equipment Operator M. Lipsitz & Co., Ltd. Waco, TX Jul 24, 2008 $28,683
Heavy Equipment Operator Island Construction Co. Inc. North Charleston, SC Aug 21, 2009 $27,820
Heavy Equipment Operator Island Construction Co. Inc. North Charleston, SC Oct 18, 2007 $27,820
Heavy Equipment Operator Big 'd' Paving C Inc. West Palm Beach, FL Sep 23, 2008 $27,194
Heavy Equipment Operator Insulation Specialists of Tulsa Tulsa, OK Feb 29, 2008 $26,755

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Top Skills for A Heavy Equipment Operator

BullDozerLoadTrucksBackhoeSafetyRegulationsDumpTrucksMiniExcavatorFrontEndLoaderGradeStakesHaulTrucksWaterTruckForkliftsScrapersJobSitesMotorGraderBobcatPreventativeMaintenanceHeavyConstructionEquipmentCaterpillarSkidSteersOsha

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Top Heavy Equipment Operator Skills

  1. Bull Dozer
  2. Load Trucks
  3. Backhoe
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Bull Dozers, Track hoes and 60Ton RT Project Overview Various Sites NC and SC
  • Operated a loader to feed the plant and load trucks.
  • Operated wide variety of equipment including excavators, bulldozers, backhoes, and packers.
  • Learned and followed safety regulations.
  • Operated Grove RT cranes, Bobcats, Dump trucks and Semi water trucks during the construction of the Oil Refinery.

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