Become a Grading Contractor: Education and Career Information

Jul 09, 2020

Should I Become a Grading Contractor?

Grading contractors operate a piece of heavy construction equipment called a grader, which is used to smooth and flatten a surface for roads or building foundations. The job of a grading contractor is dirty and they have to work in all kinds of weather conditions. To work as a grading contractor, you may need a CDL license.

The median annual salary for all paving, surfacing and tamping equipment operators is about the same as that for all occupations, and the number of jobs for these professionals is expected to increase 20% between 2012 and 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most grading contractors have a high school diploma or equivalent, as well as experience from an apprenticeship program or on-the-job training.

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma or equivalent
Training Varies, on-the-job training may be provided, apprenticeship programs are available
Licensure CDL license preferred or required
Key Skills Excellent hand-eye-foot coordination, comfortable with heights, attention to detail, ability to work with a team, good communication, proficiency with work and maintenance record software, familiarity with dozers and grade stakes machinery
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 from multiple employers (February 2013), O*Net OnLine

Step 1: Complete an Apprenticeship Program

Apprenticeship programs provide classroom and hands-on training, and are offered through vocational schools, trade organizations, unions or employers. Although not required for all grading contractor positions, heavy equipment operating apprenticeship program teach students how to use all types of heavy equipment under the supervision of an experienced operator. These programs instruct students about safety procedures, conducting inspections and using industry technology, as well as help them gain experience in the field. Apprenticeships typically take three to four years to complete.

Step 2: Secure a Commercial Driver's License

Grading contractors may need a commercial driver's license (CDL) to operate a grader. The procedure and requirements for obtaining a CDL vary by state; however, the general requirement for needing a CDL depends on the weight and type of vehicle. Most states require an application process, training courses, and testing to earn a CDL. Age restrictions for a CDL are based on whether drivers will drive in state only, or if they'll operate a vehicle out of state.

Step 3: Training for Career Advancement

Grading contractors may be self-employed or work for government agencies and private companies. Contractors can also pursue employment on public or private projects that include building bridges, roads, buildings and railroads.

Most grading contractors receive some type of on-the-job training even if they have gone through an apprenticeship program. Each job, piece of equipment and company may be different, so training may consist of policies and procedures, new grading methods and working with different types of grading equipment. For those entering the profession without prior training or education, on-the-job training includes learning how to operate a grader and safety training. Employers that require prior experience will generally expect candidates to have knowledge of and experience with heavy equipment operation.

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