Heavy equipment operators are specialized construction professionals that operate heavy equipment in construction sites. To get a job like this, a specialized training program in heavy equipment is needed, as well as a commercial driver's license. Once a heavy equipment operator has found a job, additional training will also probably be offered.
Heavy equipment operators are responsible for handling vehicles, such as excavators and backhoes. Most heavy equipment operators are employed by construction, waste management and public works employers. A high school diploma and on-the-job training are the minimum requirements for this career, but job opportunities are best for heavy equipment operators with formal training. A commercial driver's license and equipment certification are often required.
|Required Education||High school diploma at minimum; training program or apprenticeship recommended|
|Other Requirements||On-the-job training; commercial driver's license; certification on some equipment types|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||10% (for construction equipment operators)|
|Median Salary (2015)*||$44,600 (for operating engineers and other construction equipment operators)|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Training Programs for Heavy Equipment Operators
Some heavy equipment operators enter the career field with just a high school diploma and do all of their learning on-the-job, but many others are trained through vocational schools and apprenticeships. Admissions requirements for these formal programs include a high school diploma or GED certificate. After completing a formal training program, operators may seek a commercial driver's license (CDL).
Vocational schools may take 1-2 years to complete and may result in a certificate of completion or associate's degree. Apprenticeships offered by unions and local colleges usually last 3-4 years and offer more extensive training in heavy equipment operation. Accordingly, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that those who complete an apprenticeship program may have better results in the job market (www.bls.gov).
Heavy equipment operators are traditionally expected to have a solid understanding of equipment functions and construction practices. Knowledge of safety policies and regulations is essential to becoming a heavy equipment operator.
Although classroom assignments may vary based on the program, most cover topics in safety and mechanical operation. Programs also train students and apprentices on maintenance and light repair work. Instructors may then go on to educate aspiring heavy equipment operators on a range of duties from using levers to lifting materials to inspecting equipment for safety.
On-the-job training allows students and apprentices the opportunity to gain work experience under the supervision of a licensed operator. Instruction may begin with simulated programs. Once beginners are familiarized with equipment operation, they may start operating bulldozers and forklifts in designated practice areas.
Licenses and Certifications
Heavy equipment operators are generally required to have a CDL. To obtain a CDL, operators must pass a state-administered truck driving exam that tests both technical knowledge and practical driving skills. Additionally, state boards may require operators of some equipment, like cranes, to be certified by a nationally recognized program, such as the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators.
Heavy Equipment Operator Salary
Construction equipment operators made a median annual salary of $43,810 in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS reports that the majority of these workers earned between $28,310 and $77,030 yearly at that time, with equipment operators employed in Hawaii, New York, Illinois, New Jersey and Alaska commanding the highest wages.
To become a heavy equipment operator requires an understanding of construction, safety policies and regulations, as well as the heavy equipment you want to operate. It is possible to enter into the field after completing high school and gaining experience through on-the-job training, but certificates or associate's degrees can be completed in 1-2 years and offer a lot of the training that is needed and will provide a boost in the job hunting process.