Become a Certified Crane Operator: Education and Career Roadmap

Certified crane operators use heavy equipment to move large materials and pieces of machinery in the construction and manufacturing industries. Gaining training and certification in the field can give crane operators a competitive edge when looking for a job in this profession.

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Should I Become a Certified Crane Operator?

Certified crane operators drive and maneuver cranes used to move large material in construction and manufacturing. Cranes are most commonly used for building roads, buildings and bridges, but can also be used at docks, manufacturing plants and transportation centers. Certified crane operators often work in challenging environments under constantly shifting conditions. Crane operation requires certification and regular re-certification.

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Career Requirements

Required Education High School Diploma or equivalent
Training On-the-job training with specialized equipment; apprenticeship
Licensure/Certification Professional certifications available and may be required; licensing requirements vary by state
Key Skills Flexibility; manual dexterity; physical strength
Salary (2014) $50,720 (Median salary for Crane and Tower Operators)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; OSHA

Step 1: Find a Crane Operator Training Program

Many heavy equipment operators gain their primary training on the job. Crane operators, however, may be required to complete a specialized training program in order to secure a position, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Such programs are offered through community colleges, technical schools and training centers, or through unions and trade organizations (www.bls.gov). Students can often complete the programs with only a few sessions.

Step 2: Complete a Training Program

Crane operation training programs cover a variety of topics, from safety regulations to machine maintenance. Course topics might also include rigging and wire rope, inspections and maintenance, crane types, weight vs. angle, signaling and checking limit switches. Upon completion of training, candidates should be prepared to take certification and licensing exams.

Step 3: Enroll in an Apprenticeship Program

Aspiring crane operators can also seek training through organizations such as the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE). In addition to training programs, the IUOE also offers apprenticeship programs. The apprenticeships provide students with both classroom instruction and paid on-the-job training.

Step 4: Obtain Licensure and Certification

Federal law requires that certain types of crane operators be certified. The requirements depend upon the job and type of machinery that an employed worker will operate Licensure requirements vary from state to state, but they often mandate that candidates pass both written and practical skills examinations to demonstrate competency and knowledge of safe crane operation. Graduates can also obtain certification through the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) or the Crane Institute of America (CIC).

The IUOE also provides various levels of certification through its Operating Engineers Certification Program (OECP). Applicants must pass written and skills tests to obtain certification.

Step 5: Seek Employment for Career Advancement

Acquiring a license and certification can broaden opportunities for those working in this field. Career opportunities await workers in construction, warehousing and manufacturing industries. According to the BLS, employment of crane and tower operators is projected to increase by 17% between 2012 and 2022 (www.bls.gov). Many opportunities are expected to arise due to expansions in construction and increasing demands for cargo movers at ports.

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