Heavy Machinery Operator: Job Outlook and Career Information

See what types of equipment heavy machine operators might run. Find out the career outlook and salary potential, as well as other career options to consider.

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Career Definition for a Heavy Machinery Operator

Heavy machinery operators are in charge of various vehicles at construction sites, doing everything from moving land and drilling holes to lifting large rocks. They use cranes, bulldozers, backhoes, and other pieces of equipment in their work; however, many operators choose to specialize in a specific apparatus. Heavy machine operators work largely outdoors, resulting in seasonal employment.

Education* Vocational training, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) training programs, apprenticeships
Job Skills Operate complex machinery and vehicles, prepared for outside and/or seasonal work
Median Salary (2015)* $33,640 (material moving machine operators)
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3% (slower than average) (material moving machine operators)

Source: *US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Proper training is a must for any heavy machinery operator. Many trade and vocational schools offer classes, and the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) offers a myriad of programs for those just beginning. The IUOE suggests that heavy machinery operators start their careers by apprenticing, which takes three to four years.

Job Skills

Heavy machinery operators must be comfortable using complex vehicles. They are required to pay attention to details in order to avoid work-related delays. Heavy machinery operators should be flexible to handle the seasonal schedule, and they tend to change employers frequently.

Career and Economic Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that there were 679,900 positions in existence nationwide in 2014 for material moving machine operators, a similar profession as a heavy machine operator. The BLS predicted a 3% job growth in the field from 2014 to 2024, which is slower than average. PayScale.com reported that heavy equipment operators earned a median income of $43,212 per year as of January 2016.

Alternative Career Options

Other jobs similar to a Heavy Machinery Operator that might interest you include:

Construction Equipment Operator

Like heavy machinery operators, these workers have the same physical demands and use similar equipment. The education for construction equipment operators varies from on-the-job training to apprenticeships. In 2015, construction equipment operators had a median salary of $43,810. According to the BLS, a 10% employment increase is projected for this group from 2014 to 2024.

Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Driver

Drivers in this category could see a 5% increase in jobs from 2014 to 2024, based on BLS data. Along with a high school diploma and commercial driver's license, the BLS notes that 2 years of experience is needed. Drivers had a median salary of $40,260 in 2015, according to the BLS.

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