Tower Crane Operator: Training Requirements and Job Description

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a tower crane operator. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about apprenticeship programs, job duties, and licensure requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

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Tower crane operators usually work for manufacturing companies moving large construction materials with a crane. Those seeking these positions should be able to work outdoors, have mechanical aptitude, and good communication skills. These positions may require licensing or certification depending on location.

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Essential Information

The main duty of a tower crane operator is to operate equipment used to lift and relocate construction materials, shipping containers or other heavy objects. Most tower crane operators have a high school diploma or its equivalent, and they receive training through participation in a 3- to 5-year apprenticeship program. Depending on where they work, operators may also need to gain licensure and certification. Persons seeking a career in tower crane operation should be able to work well outdoors, under supervision and under time constraints.

Education Requirements High school diploma; apprenticeship program
Licensure and Certification Licensure and certification may be required, depending on the state and/or city; candidates may need to pass written and practical exams
Median Salary $51,650 annually (2015)*
Projected Job Growth 8% from 2014-2024*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Training and Requirements

Apprenticeship programs combine classroom learning with hands-on training, and they are offered at vocational schools and community colleges. Trade organizations, such as the International Union of Operating Engineers, may also provide apprenticeship opportunities.

In these programs, students review topics such as government regulations and policies, wire rope and rigging, hazardous materials procedures, hand signals and radio communications. Most programs allow students to handle actual equipment, including crane equipment and boom trucks. Students must earn a certain number of hours in the classroom and in the field to complete the program. An examination is required, too, before an individual may be classified as a journey-level worker.

As of 2013, the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) reported that 17 states required operators to be licensed (www.nccco.org). Furthermore, the following six cities or districts required licenses and in some cases additional certification:

  • Omaha
  • Philadelphia
  • Chicago
  • New Orleans
  • New York City
  • Washington, D.C.

To obtain a license, most tower crane operators need to prove they have sufficient training and experience by passing one or more exams and possibly additional courses. For cities and states that require specific credentials, such as the certified crane operator (CCO) designation, workers must meet the requirements of credential-granting boards.

Career Options

Operators work mainly for manufacturing companies, according to the BLS. Construction sites also employ crane operators for commercial building projects, including skyscrapers. Shipping ports hire crane operators to load and unload cargo from ships and trains.

Operators steer the crane as they transport loads from one place to another. Because they are far from the objects they are moving, operators rely on ground workers to direct them via special hand signals or radio communication.

Nearly all operators work outdoors, although the operating booth provides some protection from the elements. Many work a standard 8-hour shift, but work hours may be day or night. For example, manufacturing companies often operate on 24 hours a day, requiring three shifts of operators.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS expects about average growth of 8% for crane and tower operators over the 2014-2024 decade. Growth is particularly expected in the construction and water transportation support industries. The BLS reported a May 2015 median annual wage of $51,650 for crane and tower operators.

Tower crane operators require a high school diploma or GED. Most receive training through apprenticeship programs. Licensure is required in some states and cities.

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