Job Description of a Heavy Construction Equipment Operator

Sep 24, 2019

Heavy construction equipment operators use large machinery, such as forklifts, bulldozers and cranes, at construction sites. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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A heavy construction equipment operator may bulldoze materials or debris at a construction site, use equipment to lift objects, or transport dirt, rocks or other materials. Some of the types of equipment they can operate include cranes, trucks and asphalt spreaders.

Essential Information

Heavy construction equipment operators learn their craft through on-the-job apprenticeships or in formal training programs. Certification is available in the field.

Required Education Vocational training
Other Requirements Additional licensing may be required
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 10% for construction equipment operators
Median Salary (2018)* $47,810 for operating engineers and other construction equipment operators

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties

Heavy construction equipment operators use machinery to perform work at construction sites. Using large equipment, they might move dirt or rocks from place to place, bulldoze buildings or lift heavy objects into the air. They operate trucks, cranes, shovels, asphalt spreaders and more.

Often equipment operators are in charge of using machines and ensuring their continued operations. They perform maintenance checks on gears and make necessary repairs. This might involve complex computer work, since many construction machines employ computer technologies such as GPS (global position systems).

Work Environment

Construction equipment operators work outside and in all types of climates and weather. Their workspace can be dirty and even dangerous. They may work irregular hours depending on the scheduling needs of construction projects.

Education and Training

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (, construction equipment operators typically possess a high school diploma. Heavy equipment operators should take classes in automobile mechanics, science, mechanical drawing and computers in high school to prepare for tasks they might encounter while working. Operators may learn to operate specific machinery in an apprenticeship program, on-the-job training or specialized classroom instruction. In addition, some colleges offer certificate programs or associate's degrees in heavy equipment operation.

The International Union of Operating Engineers offers formal classroom training to operators across the United States and Canada. In addition to machinery operation, they coach workers in safety and health issues. They also participate in a Job Corps program, which trains young, pre-apprenticeship operators.

Certification and Advancement

Construction equipment operators can obtain certification from a number of different organizations to prove their abilities to employers. The National Association of Heavy Equipment Training Schools offers a general certification. There are also certifications for specific types of equipment, such as the Crane Operator Certification developed by the National Center for Construction Education and Research. Skilled operators may advance to become supervisors or may use their knowledge to teach in a classroom setting. They might also start their own contracting business.

Salary and Career Outlook

The BLS projects a faster-than-average job growth of 10% between 2018 and 2028 for operators of construction equipment. It also reports that the median annual salary for these operators was $47,810 as of May 2018.

While vocational training or an apprenticeship is needed to work as a heavy construction operator, individuals can prepare to enter this career by taking classes in mechanical drawing, auto mechanics and computers while still in high school. Certification is optional but available in many specialty areas.

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