Heavy equipment operators run certain kinds of large equipment, such as construction machines, and they typically need to hold a commercial driver's license (CDL) to do so. Training for a heavy equipment license is usually completed at vocational trade schools or 2-year colleges. Certification programs are also available.
License and Training Requirements
A CDL license is required for transportation of equipment, such as a large flatbed trailer. A CDL is also required to operate a dump truck on public roads. Many students train for a CDL in combination with a heavy equipment operator's certificate.
Students seeking to become a heavy equipment operator can apply to a certificate program, usually offered by a community college or trade school. The program usually takes eight weeks to complete. In this program, students learn how to operate motor graders, scrapers, crawler-tractors, front end loaders, excavators, dump trucks, back-hoes, bulldozers, rollers, all-terrain forklifts and hydraulic excavators.
Approximately 50% of training is hands-on, with students training on heavy equipment in the field. Classroom instruction includes the use of computer programs to practice planning and completing projects, GPS training, safety training, applied math and surveying techniques.
Prospective heavy equipment operators learn how to manipulate controls precisely, judge distances and maintain heavy equipment machinery. Many heavy equipment training programs require a student to qualify on at least two types of heavy equipment.
Hybrid heavy equipment operator courses are also available. Students learn about heavy equipment safety, signs, hand signals and safety, principles of diesel engines, basic hydraulics and electrical systems through distance education. Students then go into resident training, where hands-on skills are learned.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), operating engineers and other construction equipment operators can expect a 10% increase in job opportunities between 2014 and 2024. Graduates of a heavy equipment operator program will be able to find work in construction, trucking and transportation. Those working in construction can expect job availability to vary with the market. Those who train on multiple types of equipment will have an easier time finding work.
As of January 2016, heavy equipment operators can expect to earn between $28,824 and $71,124 (10th to 90th percentile range) annually, according to PayScale.com. This includes bonuses and profit sharing. The BLS reports the median salary for operating engineers and other construction equipment operators to be $44,600 as of May 2015.
In order to earn a heavy equipment license, training can be completed by earning a heavy equipment operator certificate at a vocational or trade school.