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Excavation Equipment Operator: Employment Info and Requirements

Excavation equipment operators remove earth for a variety of projects, including mining operations, real estate developments and archaeological digs. Learn the training and licensure requirements to work in this field.

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Career Definition for an Excavation Equipment Operator

Excavation equipment operators pilot machines used to dig up and remove land from project sites. They work at a variety of locations and typically dig up land for new roads, buildings or utilities, but any project that requires earth to be moved or holes to be dug could call for an excavation equipment operator. These individuals tend to work seasonally because bad weather may limit work.

Education High school diploma or equivalent
Job Skills Communication, hand-eye coordination, mechanical skill, observational
Median Salary (2015)* $40,050 (excavating and loading machine and dragline operators)
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% (excavating and loading machine and dragline operators)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Most firms hire excavation equipment operators who hold a high school degree; however, some firms prefer those who have completed a trade school program in heavy equipment operation. Many of these programs last one year and provide students with on-site training. A commercial driver's license (CDL) is also required for many excavation equipment operator jobs; rules and regulations for obtaining a CDL vary by state.

Skills Required

Excavation equipment operators must have strong communication skills and an ability to work well with others. They must also have a keen eye for safety issues because some of the work can be dangerous. Excavation equipment operators need to be flexible to accommodate changing schedules and daily demands.

Career and Economic Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 53,900 people were employed in jobs related to excavating in May 2014. The BLS estimates that jobs in the field will grow by 6% from 2014 to 2024. The median annual salary of excavating and loading machine and dragline operators was $40,050 in 2015, per the BLS.

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Alternative Career Options

Those seeking employment as an excavation equipment operator may be interested in similar occupations, including material moving and operating construction equipment.

Hand Laborers and Material Movers

Those who prefer to move material by hand rather by machine may be interested in a career as a hand laborer or material mover. These laborers move all types of materials, including freight, garbage and recyclable materials. There is no minimum education requirement for this career, and unless a laborer is in charge of driving a large truck, no special licensure is required. Many hand laborers and material movers are trained on the job during a 1-3 month period. In May 2015, the BLS reported that the median salary for these workers was $24,090. Employment growth for hand laborers and material movers is projected to be about average at 5% from 2014 to 2024, according to the BLS.

Construction Equipment Operators

Like excavation equipment operators, construction equipment operators control heavy machinery. The main difference between these careers is that construction equipment operators use equipment to build up, while excavation equipment operators use their equipment to dredge or dig out. Most construction equipment operators only need a high school diploma and on-the-job training to begin their career, but some complete vocational education programs or apprenticeships to prepare for a job in this field. Depending on the equipment and the state, licensure may be required. As of May 2015, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for construction equipment operators was $43,810. The BLS projects that jobs for construction equipment operators will increase by 10% from 2014 to 2024, which is faster than average.

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