Become a Mining Equipment Operator: Education and Career Roadmap

Should I Become a Mining Equipment Operator?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicated that mining equipment operators control machines that move materials, such as rock, sand and precious metals. Some professionals work in above-ground mines, and their job duties include excavating job sites, digging through soil and loading raw materials into transport conveyors. Other operators work in underground mines, and these individuals use heavy equipment to break up rocks and send materials above-ground.

With this work it is extremely important to strictly follow safety measures in order to help avoid potential accidents. Like most material moving machine operators, mining equipment operators usually work a typical 8-hour shift and full-time work is available. However, many operations run around the clock so working an overnight shift is a possibility.

Career Requirements

Degree Level No post-secondary training required, but recommended; associate's degrees and certificate programs are available
Degree Field Mining technology
Training On-the-job training or apprenticeship typically required
Key Skills Being able to spot potential hazards, capable of following safety guidelines, strong communications skills; knowledge of mining equipment technology (conveyor systems, mine cars, rigging equipment and power shovels); excellent hand dexterity, comfort with working in confined spaces and willingness to work late hours
Salary (2015) $43,637 per year (Median salary for heavy equipment operators)

Source: (July 2015)

Step 1: Learn about Mining Technology

Individuals are not necessarily required to earn certificates or associate degrees in mining technologies. Nevertheless, the BLS shows that the mining industry has become far more technologically advanced, which means employers will most likely look for applicants with technology training.

Certificate and associate degree programs related to mining technology often include coursework in mining systems, underground mining, surface mining, blueprint reading, rigging, drill technology, explosives, materials processing and mine safety.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship program. Several associate degree programs often provide internship opportunities in mining technology. Internships tend to be offered in different areas, such as surface mining, mining technology or underground mining. Completing one or more mining technology internships may help students choose their preferred mining specialty.

Step 2: Get Mining Equipment Operator Training

Many employers provide mining equipment operator training to new employees, per the BLS. Individuals can also join mining apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeship programs allow individuals to learn about the mining technology field while earning wages. According to the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), heavy equipment operator training apprenticeships are offered all over the U.S., and apprentices learn about their trade both in the classroom and on job sites.

Apprenticeship programs specifically in mining may only be offered in certain states. It may take 3-4 years to complete heavy equipment apprenticeship programs, per the IUOE. Some programs may be shorter. For example, the West Virginia Coal Association's surface mining apprenticeship program consists of 40 hours of classroom training and six months of working in the field. Apprentices in this program also have to pass exams to become certified surface miners.

Step 3: Take Mining Safety Courses

Part of new employee training includes learning about mining technology safety, per the BLS. Undergraduate degree or certificate programs may cover some of the basic mining safety protocols, especially in regards to use of equipment. Employers may provide more specific safety instructions, such as if miners have to work around hazardous materials.

According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), each mining team has to have at least one individual who has been trained in first aid. Additionally, per MSHA guidelines, all miners should be given the opportunity to learn about first aid techniques.

Step 4: Learn to Operate Different Types of Equipment

Mining equipment operators who want to increase their employment opportunities may consider learning how to operate other kinds of machinery, like tractors, cranes or hydraulic booms, among others.

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