Become a Dragline Operator: Education and Career Roadmap

Should I Become a Dragline Operator?

Dragline operators manipulate large buckets or scoops used to move great amounts of earth or other material from mines and construction sites. Most dragline operators work a regular 8-hour shift, though overtime is not uncommon. Working in this line of work can be dangerous, and operators might need to work in uncomfortable weather conditions.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Employers often require that dragline operators have completed high school
Experience 1-3+ years of experience in the field
Key Skills Knowledge of maintenance procedures, good hand-eye coordination, written and verbal communication skills, spreadsheet and word processing software, e-mail
Additional Requirements Valid driver's license, good physical shape, typically must be at least 18 years old
Salary (2014) $39,830 yearly (median for all excavating and loading machine and dragline operators)

Sources: Job postings accessed in December 2012, O*NET Online, College Foundation of North Carolina

Step 1: Complete Dragline Operator Training

Most dragline operators are trained on the job, assisting and learning from more experienced workers. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) recommends employers first review operating manuals with new hires, then perform a demonstration of dragline equipment before allowing trainees to practice under supervision ( The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandated a similar process for construction work (

Individuals can also receive formal training through an apprenticeship program that combines classroom education with hands-on experience. Local chapters of the International Union of Operating Engineers coordinate heavy equipment operator apprenticeships; however, some programs may not contain dragline operator training. Prospective apprentices must take reading, math and mechanical aptitude tests when applying. Apprenticeships last approximately four years.

Success Tip:

  • Obtain and maintain a driver's license. Because heavy equipment operators often drive machines, many employers require that employees have a valid driver's license.

Step 2: Complete Safety Training

In addition to learning operation and maintenance procedures, mining dragline operators must complete federally mandated safety training, which is typically provided by employers. The MSHA requires new surface mining employees to complete 24 hours of safety training. OSHA requires construction companies to supervise new dragline operators.

Success Tip:

  • Maintain good physical condition. Dragline operators must be able to lift heavy objects, climb up and down ladders and be able to handle prolonged sitting and standing.

Step 3: Advance to Dragline Operator

On-the-job training may last up to 12 weeks or more, depending on the size of equipment used. Dragline operators can expect to work under supervision as long as their employer deems necessary.

Dragline operator duties include external and on-board inspections, mounting and dismounting, general operation, shutdown operations and maintenance. Operators must be able to evaluate the condition of dragline equipment, including buckets and ropes, and be in constant visual or verbal communication with other dragline crew members.

Step 4: Beyond Dragline Operator

Consider advancement in pay and responsibility by becoming a construction equipment operator with knowledge of multiple machine types. This can be accomplished on the job, via apprenticeship or by attending trade school.

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