Backhoe Operator: Education Requirements and Career Information

Most backhoe operators are high school graduates who are trained on-the-job; however, heavy equipment operator certificate programs are offered through community colleges, vocational schools, and for-profit training organizations.

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Essential Information

Students in heavy equipment operator certificate programs learn how to operate several different types of equipment used on construction sites, including backhoes. They might also learn how to operate graders, bulldozers, front-end loaders, and dump trucks. In these programs, students learn how to start, control, and maneuver large construction machines. They also learn how to recognize and drive around the survey markings and stakes in construction sites. Most certificate programs also include courses on heavy equipment safety regulations and maintenance. Graduates will need to earn a commercial driver's license (CDL) to drive backhoes.

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  • Heavy Equipment Operation
  • Truck, Bus and Commercial Driver

Certificate in Heavy Equipment Operation

Many schools only accept high school graduates to these certificate programs, but this is not always the case. Some schools make exceptions for students with non-traditional educational backgrounds. Most schools require that incoming students have a driver's license. Courses taught in the field usually revolve around specific pieces of equipment, such as the backhoe. Examples of courses include:

  • Introduction to heavy equipment operating
  • Math for the construction trades
  • Fundamentals of welding; MIG welding
  • Heavy equipment safety regulations
  • Workplace emergencies
  • Equipment maintenance

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) places backhoe operators into the subcategory of excavating and loading machine and dragline operators, within the wider category of material moving machine operators ( Many professionals in the field are trained to operate more than one type of heavy construction machine. There were 49,880 excavating and loading machine and dragline operators employed in 2015. Operators earned a median salary of about $40,050 per year in 2015.

Certification Options

While backhoe operators don't need certification, they need to obtain a commercial driver's license (CDL) in order to drive their backhoes from site to site. Each state has its own requirement for granting licensure. Candidates must pass written tests on parts of a backhoe and highway safety as well as a driving test using a backhoe.

Even though it is not possible to earn a certificate specifically in backhoe operation, interested students can learn to use one in a broader certificate program in heavy equipment operation. Graduates have the educational background they need to seek a commercial driver's license and land a job as a heavy equipment operator.

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