Become a Tower Crane Operator: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a tower crane operator. Research the education and career requirements, licensure and experience required for starting a career as a tower crane operator.

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Should I Become a Tower Crane Operator?

A tower crane is a piece of heavy-duty equipment used to transport large and oversized objects. Tower crane operators maneuver these machines and check to make sure they function properly by moving levers and pushing pedals. Individuals work at construction sites, iron or steel mills and ports, which are hazardous by nature. It's important to ensure safety is maintained at all times. Full-time work is available, and sometimes long shifts and overtime hours are necessary in this field.

Prospective tower crane operators need to complete a formal training program to gain experience in the field and prepare for employment. The National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) offers certification for tower crane operators. Additionally, a license is required in some states and cities.

Career Requirements

Training Required High school diploma or equivalent; vocational school heavy equipment program or 3- to 4-year apprenticeship
Licensure/Certification While licensure is required in some states, operators can pursue voluntary certification through the NCCCO
Experience Employers typically prefer 2-5 years of experience
Key Skills Good hand-eye coordination, physical ability to operate a machine, strong mechanical skills and an understanding of computer systems used in the machines
Salary (2014) $50,720 per year (Median salary for all crane and tower operators)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Monster.com job ads in August 2012

Step 1: Complete a Heavy-Equipment Operator Program

Prospective tower crane operators pursue either a heavy-equipment operator certificate, associate's degree or apprenticeship. These programs offer both academic coursework and field training. The goal is to teach students how to safely operate heavy equipment construction machines, read blue prints, identify machine parts and perform routine maintenance. Courses in a program cover areas involving diesel engine systems, hydraulics for operators, powertrain, and related systems, operation of trenching equipment and construction safety management.

Success Tips

  • Focus on tower crane operation. While completing field training, focus on operating a tower crane. During a heavy-equipment operator training program, opportunities are offered to work on a construction site and learn under an experienced tower crane operator. This is a chance to apply what was learned in the classroom to a real-world setting.
  • Check the school's reputation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a vocational school program helps when job seeking. However, make sure the school has a good reputation among employers and find out if the school offers hands-on training on real machines.

Step 2: Get Licensed

As of 2015, the NCCCO reports that six cities and 17 states mandate licensure for tower crane operators. In order to become licensed, a tower crane operator must meet the requirements of the state in which they work. Requirements include an examination and a minimum amount of experience. However, it's important to note NCCCO certification fulfills the licensure requirement in some states.

Step 3: Earn Voluntary Certification

Tower crane operators working in states that don't require licensure might still consider earning NCCCO certification to demonstrate that they have met the professional standards set by this nationally recognized organization. In order to earn tower crane operator certification, the NCCCO requires candidates to complete both written and practical exams. The written exam includes 55 multiple-choice questions and 60 minutes of testing time. The practical exam ensures operators are proficient in working with hammerhead, luffer or self-erecting cranes.

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