Heavy Equipment Operator Apprenticeship Program Options

Aspiring heavy equipment operators often learn their trade through an apprenticeship. These apprenticeships are available through many avenues, including postsecondary schools and professional associations.

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Apprenticeship programs for heavy equipment operators are available at technical schools and community colleges, as well as through industry organizations. Individuals considering an apprenticeship may want to learn about salary expectations before enrolling.

Program Overviews

Apprenticeship programs for heavy equipment operators are available through technical and community colleges, industry associations and trade unions. These apprenticeship programs generally last three to four years and include both in-class and paid, on-the-job learning.

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Finding Apprenticeship Programs

Here are some organizations offering apprenticeship programs for heavy equipment operators:

Technical and Community Colleges

These programs may be sponsored by local chapters of organizations such as the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC), in conjunction with state labor departments. Students completing these programs need to be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED. Since some heavy equipment operators operate equipment on roadways, a commercial driver's license may be required. Additionally, students must be able to meet the physical demands of the profession before applying to the apprenticeship programs.

These programs combine hands-on training in the field with classroom-based academic coursework. Within the practical portion of the program, students may gain experience with lots of types of machines, including:

  • Cranes
  • Bulldozers
  • Forklifts
  • Skid steers
  • Motor graders
  • Front-end loaders
  • Paving equipment

In the classroom, students may study topics like:

  • Site safety procedures
  • Legal regulations
  • Equipment operations
  • Welding
  • Soil inspection

Some programs prepare apprentices for certification in areas such as pipeline operations, first aid, CPR and waste operations. Program graduates can pursue career opportunities involving equipment operation, inspections, troubleshooting and equipment maintenance. At the end of their studies, students are awarded a certificate of completion and may earn journeyman status.

Industry Associations and Trade Unions

Industry associations, such as the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), and trade unions, such as the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), also offer heavy equipment apprenticeship programs. These programs are available nationwide. They may be registered with state or federal apprenticeship agencies, too. Students will need to follow steps similar to that of the job search process when seeking entrance. This includes filling out an application and being interviewed. Students learn the same topics in apprenticeship programs offered through industry associations and trade unions as they do in apprenticeship programs offered by technical and community colleges.

Salary Information

Wages earned by heavy equipment operator apprentices vary by locality. According to the IUOE, starting pay is between 45%-60% of journeymen's wages. Towards the end of the apprenticeship period, heavy equipment operator apprentices can earn 80%-90% of what journeymen earn. According to Salary.com, the median salary of heavy equipment operators in 2017 was $60,888.

By completing an apprenticeship, aspiring heavy equipment operators can gain the academic knowledge and operational skills necessary for success in this career. Often sponsored by trade unions and professional associations, these programs offer paid training and last three or four years.

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