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Equipment Operator: Job Description and Education Requirements

Equipment operators require little formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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With a high school diploma and on-the-job training, it's possible to begin a career as an equipment operator. It's also possible to attend vocational school or complete an apprenticeship to prepare to enter this field. Formal training may increase job prospects for those seeking work as an equipment operator.

Essential Information

An equipment operator supports a major construction, repair or excavating project. The job entails maneuvering heavy equipment in rugged terrain. Workers must exhibit a high degree of stamina and keen mechanical abilities to excel in this field.

Required Education Vocational schooling, apprenticeship or on-the-job training
Other Requirements Mechanical aptitude and high degree of stamina
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 10%
Median Salary (2015)* $43,810

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description

Equipment operators maneuver vehicles and other machinery around construction areas, mines and offshore drilling sites. Essentially, equipment operators prepare a designated site for building or drilling. They may use construction vehicles such as bulldozers, all-terrain forklifts, mobile cranes and backhoes. Equipment operators are responsible for soil leveling or ground manipulation and for the transportation of equipment and materials. They may assist in the construction or repair of bridges, roads and railroads for government infrastructure projects, or they may help build manufacturing plants or other private industry structures.

All equipment operators should possess acute visual perception abilities to accurately judge distances. Additionally, they should have a mechanical aptitude along with a background in auto mechanics to understand the fundamental principles involved in operating the machinery. With the addition of the global positioning system (GPS) technology, workers may need to demonstrate some proficiency with computers. Equipment operators will also need a basic understanding of electronics in order to operate many of the newer vehicles designed with electronic controls.

Industry professionals have a number of opportunities for advancement in the field. They may choose to become on-site supervisors, contract business owners or instructors in training programs.

Specific Duties

Equipment operators must work outdoors on location in all weather conditions and on all terrain, usually from the early morning hours until late afternoon. Depending on the project, they may be expected to work evenings, weekends or swing shifts. The work is arduous and dangerous. Consequently, workers must be alert at all times.

These professionals often specialize in the operation of a specific vehicle. They may, for example, drive trucks that transport a variety of heavy building materials on flatbed lowboy trailers to the specified site, or they may operate machines that dig trenches, excavate construction sites or lift heavy equipment. Alternatively, they may operate vehicles to grade land or pave roads.

Equipment operators inspect the vehicles to ensure safety. They are also expected to repair or assist in the repair and maintenance of the construction vehicles.

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Education Requirements

Students may choose to enroll in a private vocational school, apply for an apprenticeship through a union managed organization or receive on-the-job training with a private contractor.

Vocational Schools

Private vocational schools offer both comprehensive courses as well intensive field work. Classroom instruction will focus on such topics as grade reading, soils, laser levels and equipment safety and maintenance. Math courses such as volume computation may be required. Some schools feature training grounds for land clearing, ditch digging and pipe laying experience. Students are expected to complete projects in simulated construction zones in all weather conditions.

A school may offer these courses with third party certification to ensure that the instruction is consistent with other training programs. The program will take three years or more to complete and should include hands-on experience with a variety of machines as well as commercial driver license instruction, a pre-requisite for many operator jobs that entail driving construction vehicles.

Apprenticeships

Prospective equipment operators may opt to take an apprenticeship under the auspices of the International Union of Operating Engineers. These students are trained in a wide variety of vehicular operations, making then versatile future employees. This training offers some classroom instruction, usually over 140 hours, as well as 6,000 hours of paid hands-on experience. The program may take 3-4 years to complete and offers certification.

On-the-Job Training

Some private companies offer basic training with supervised jobs for entry-level workers. Training may be limited to specific vehicles. This option may be suitable for those who have had related experience. However, these workers may lack versatility as well as formal education, often necessary prerequisites for future employment opportunities.

Salary and Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts a 10% increase in employment for construction equipment operators during the 2014-2024 decade. The BLS stated that this projected increase is largely due to anticipated upgrades to roads, sewers and bridges. As of May 2015, all construction equipment operators made a median annual salary of $43,810, according to the BLS.

Equipment operators inspect vehicles, perform repairs, and operate the equipment as needed for their job site. Their work is considered dangerous, and safety is a primary concern on all job sites. Equipment operators need to be alert and observant as they perform their tasks.

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