Heavy Equipment Operator Education Requirements and Career Info

Sep 12, 2019

With a high school diploma and on-the-job training, you can prepare to work as a heavy equipment operator. Vocational school programs may also be an option for those who are planning to work in the construction industry. Stable job growth is projected in this field through 2028.

Essential Information

Heavy equipment operators work in construction, mining, oil extraction, agriculture and manufacturing industries. These professionals work with a variety of machines, including cranes, front end loaders, pavers and power shovels. Many employers offer on-the-job-training, and plenty of vocational schools also offer heavy equipment operator programs.

Required Education High school diploma or equivalent and on-the-job training or vocational school program completion
Apprenticeship Opportunities Offered through the International Union of Operating Engineers (IOUE) and the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America, average completion of the paid program takes approximately 3 years
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 10% for all construction equipment operators*
Median Salary (2018) $46,990 for all construction equipment operators*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Requirements for Heavy Equipment Operators

Many employers provide on-the-job heavy equipment operation training to new hires with at least a high school education. Novice operators may begin by training on lighter equipment with an experienced equipment operator, and then advance to operating cranes and bulldozers. There are also a number of private vocational schools that offer programs for heavy equipment operators. Prospective students should verify the reputation and usefulness of such programs with local employers and accreditation agencies before applying. Some heavy equipment training is technologically sophisticated and requires more training and some knowledge of electronics.


Heavy equipment operators can develop comprehensive skills through apprenticeship training programs offered by the International Union of Operating Engineers (IOUE) and the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America. These apprenticeship programs last about three years and include 144 hours of annual classroom instruction along with on-the-job paid apprenticeship training.

Career Info

Heavy equipment operators regularly complete construction, demolition or excavation work with many types of machinery, including backhoes, tractors and bulldozers. They may use pile drivers to hammer long beams of wood or steel into the ground to support construction projects. They may also be required to perform repairs or routine maintenance on their equipment. Heavy equipment operators often work outdoors with irregular work hours and are exposed to hazards involving equipment operation and repetitive motion.

Salary Information and Job Outlook

Job prospects for all construction equipment operators are expected to grow faster than average, with a projected growth faster than the average between 2018 and 2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Workers who are trained and experienced on multiple types of equipment are projected to have the best job opportunities (www.bls.gov).

However, the construction industry is affected by fluctuations in the economy, according to the BLS. Heavy equipment operators, like other construction workers, may occasionally have periods of unemployment when construction slows during economic downturn. Conversely, there may be a shortage of qualified workers and plenty of job opportunities when the economy booms and construction activity is at its peak.

While a 10% job growth is expected for construction equipment operators through 2028, trained workers may be exposed to the most opportunities. Employers often provide on-the-job training for high school graduates, but it is also possible to pursue vocational training prior to entering this career path.

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