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Derrick Operator: Job Duties & Career Information

Learn about the different types of derrick operators. Find out the training requirements, and check salary and outlook information for careers in derrick operation.

Career Definition for Derrick Operators

Derrick operators working in the oil and gas extraction industries maintain drilling equipment, prepare and operate mud pumps, mix drilling fluids, control the proper placement of drill pipes, and inspect and repair rigs. Experienced derrick operators may also supervise drill teams, obtain soil and rock samples, and determine borehole locations.

Derrick operators working in construction and shipping may be classified as hoist and winch operators, using guy derricks equipped with cables and booms to move heavy materials and equipment. Derrick operators are employed throughout the U.S. by companies in the mining, oil and gas extraction, construction and shipping industries, and by government agencies that build bridges, dams, and power plants. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2017, Alaska, North Dakota, and Wyoming were the highest-paying states for this occupation in the oil and gas industry.

Education High school diploma or GED and on-site training; training programs and apprenticeships are available from various organizations
Job Skills Mathematics skill, report filing, maintaining and repairing equipment, height judging, decision making
Median Salary 2017 $46,140 (oil and gas), $43,210 (hoist and winch operators)
Career Outlook 2016-2026 26% (derrick operators, oil and gas), -1% (hoist and winch operators)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements

Employers generally require derrick operators to have a high school diploma, and many will provide on-the-job training to applicants who are at least 18 years old. Derrick operators may also gain experience by enrolling in training programs offered by independent crane operator schools and through apprenticeships in heavy equipment operation offered through the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE). Many employers and some states may also require certification by the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO).

Essential Skills

Derrick operators must have good mechanical skills and the ability to judge heights and distances. They must be able to perform repetitive work under pressure, follow instructions, and make decisions. Good communication and teamwork skills are essential. They must have good math skills and an eye for interpreting diagrams, as well as good analytical skills and the ability to troubleshoot, complete inspection reports, and maintain and repair equipment. Some employers may require a commercial driver's license.

Career Outlook and Financial Forecast

The BLS projects 26% employment growth for derrick operators working in the oil and gas industry and a 1% decline in the material moving industry from 2016 to 2026. In May 2017, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for oil and gas derrick operators was $46,140; for hoist and winch derrick operators, it was $43,210.

Alternative Career Options

Careers with similar job descriptions are:

Pile Driver

Those interested in a faster-growing career in the construction equipment operation industry may want to explore the career field of pile driving. Pile drivers operate machinery that pounds or 'drives' large support beams for construction projects into the ground. These workers can complete vocational training, learn on the job or participate in an apprenticeship program to learn their craft. Pile-driving machines are large, and thus some states consider them the same as cranes and require operators to have a license. The median annual salary for pile drivers was $57,650 as of May 2017. The outlook for pile drivers is good, and the BLS projects jobs for these workers to increase by 15% from 2016 to 2026.

Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Driver

Those who like to operate heavy machinery, but who would prefer to move off of the construction site, might like the career of a heavy truck or tractor-trailer driver. These drivers haul and drive heavy loads long distances. To operate large vehicles, these drivers need special training, which can be obtained through community colleges or professional truck driving schools. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers need a commercial driver's license and may be required to complete on-the-job training. As of May 2017, these drivers had a median annual salary of $42,480. Jobs in this field are projected to increase by 6% from 2016 to 2026.


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