Become a Construction Equipment Operator: Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a construction equipment operator. Research the education and career requirements, licensure information, and experience needed for starting a career as a construction equipment operator.

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Should I Become a Construction Equipment Operator?

Construction equipment operators drive and operate heavy machinery used on construction sites. The machinery is used to move supplies, debris and other materials. Before starting a job, construction equipment operators ensure that all parts are functioning properly and ready for operation.

The work takes place at remote, outdoor sites, and often involves dirty conditions or inclement weather situations. Construction equipment operators are exposed to a high risk of accidents and illnesses, so they must be diligent about safety precautions.

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  • Heavy Equipment Operation
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Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma, on-the-job or postsecondary training, or an apprenticeship
Degree Field Construction equipment operation
Licensure Commercial driver's license required
Experience For entry-level job no experience is necessary
Key Skills Manual dexterity to operate machines, excellent hand-foot-eye coordination, experience using, maintaining and repairing backhoes, graders and loaders, comfortable with heights, physical strength and stamina
Salary (2014) $43,510 per year (Median salary for all operating engineers and other construction equipment operators)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings (November 2012)

Step 1: Gain Experience

Obtaining experience in the construction industry provides you with information about the construction process. You can begin as a laborer before pursuing additional training opportunities. This work can be done during the summer while in high school, or before enrolling in an apprenticeship program.

Step 2: Enter an Apprenticeship

The BLS states that the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) is the largest union for this career and it offers apprenticeships. IUOE apprentices log approximately three years of on-the-job and classroom training on construction sites and within local union facilities. Common subject matter includes excavation, demolition and bulldozing. Apprentices should be at least 18 years old, high school graduates and meet physical requirements.

Candidates may consider coordinated apprenticeship programs offered by community colleges and local unions. These programs focus on Occupational Health and Safety Association (OSHA) safety and regulations, equipment types, first aid, math, job site basics and equipment maintenance.

Step 3: Prepare for Employment Opportunities

Applicants should be comfortable working different shifts and in various typw weather, as well as know how to follow detailed instructions. They may be required to pass a drug test. Additionally, employers may require employees to travel to different construction sites, and prefer applicants who have a commercial driver's license. Employers may also favor candidates who have completed OSHA approved safety training courses, or have worked at OSHA jobsites.

Step 4: Continue Education for Career Advancement

Those who successfully complete apprenticeships and are hired as construction equipment operators may find additional training beneficial. Continuing education training allows operators to become familiar with the newest equipment and refreshes their knowledge of industry safety measures.

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