Be an Operating Engineer: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become an operating engineer. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in equipment operation. View article »

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  • 0:03 Should I Be an…
  • 0:21 Career Requirements
  • 1:08 Steps to Operating Engineer

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Video Transcript

Should I Be an Operating Engineer?

Operating engineers oversee the use of heavy machinery, like cranes and bulldozers, at construction sites. These professionals also might drive industrial trucks and operate other power equipment. Precautions must be taken when working with heavy machinery to assure all workers' safety.

Career Requirements

Education Level High school diploma
Experience On-the-job training
Licensure/Certification Licensure is required to operate certain types of equipment; some additional certifications may be optional
Key Skills Problem solving; skills in communication and industry-related computer programs such as facilities management and time accounting software; good hand-eye-foot coordination; ability to use and maintain equipment such as pipe threaders, ditchers, rollers, loaders, and cranes
Mean Salary (2015)* $49,110 (for operating engineers and other construction equipment operators)

Sources: iSeek Careers, *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2015), Building Contractors Association of New Jersey

Steps to Be an Operating Engineer

What steps do I need to take to be an operating engineer?

Step 1: Obtain Relevant Training

Some operating engineers enter the workforce through formal apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeship candidates generally need a high school diploma, and entrance into these programs is competitive. Apprenticeship programs usually last for several years and combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction.

Prospective operating engineers also can choose to learn on-the-job. In this type of training, trainees learn from an experienced worker. Informal job training can last from several months to a year.

Step 2: Obtain Licensure

Operating engineers might be required to obtain licensure to operate certain equipment, such as cranes and bulldozers. Qualifications vary by state but might include meeting vision standards, passing an exam, and meeting health requirements.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Workers who can operate multiple pieces of equipment will have an increased ability to remain in this occupation. In addition, workers who live near large metropolitan areas will have a greater opportunity for employment. Operating engineers with extensive experience may start their own businesses or work as teachers for various apprenticeship programs.

Success Tip:

To increase your chances for success, you may want to obtain certification. Voluntary certification is available for some types of heavy equipment. For example, the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) administers certification programs for various types of crane maneuvering.

Operating engineers oversee the use of heavy machinery at construction sites. They're expected to have high school diplomas, training, strong coordination, and expertise with industry equipment and software, and they earn a mean annual wage of $49,110.

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