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Heavy Equipment Training Programs and Requirements

Heavy equipment operator training is generally offered as a certificate program with hands-on preparation. Continue reading for an overview of the programs, as well as career and salary information and some career options for graduates.

Heavy equipment training is needed in order to become a pile-drive operator, crane and tower operator or an operating engineer. All three of these occupations involve operating large machines to move or manipulate materials. Those in these positions often receive on-the-job training, but will frequently also go through a certificate program.

Essential Information

In a heavy equipment operator certificate program, students receive instruction on safety procedures and basic machine operation. These programs can be completed in two semesters and may include training on soil types and welding. Most programs also provide real-life training and practice on construction equipment, which may include bulldozers, graders, excavators, cranes and wheel loaders. Heavy equipment operators may be required to transport heavy equipment to and from a jobsite. Therefore, students may need to earn a class A commercial driver's license (CDL).

Career Pile-Driver Operators Crane and Tower Operators Operating Engineers
Education Requirements Certificate or completion of apprenticeship Certificate or completion of apprenticeship Certificate or completion of apprenticeship
Additional Requirements Commercial driver's license (CDL) Commercial driver's license (CDL) Commercial driver's license (CDL)
Job Growth* (2014-2024) 17% 8% 10%
Median Salary* (2015) $49,430 $51,650 $44,600

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Heavy equipment professionals operate, maintain and transport machinery, such as excavators, backhoes, bulldozers and wheel loaders. Operators use these machines to level ground, carry heavy loads and pave surfaces. While some of these professionals only hold a high school diploma and are trained on the job, it's common for aspiring heavy equipment operators to complete specialized certificate programs or apprenticeships.

Pile-Driver Operators

Pile-driver operators primarily hammer large piles that support bridges, buildings, walls and other big structures. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for pile-driver operators was $49,430 as of 2015. As with most construction careers, the percentage of change in employment for pile-driver operators is dependent on the economy. With this considered, projected employment growth for this occupation is 17% between 2014 and 2024, which is much faster than average.

Crane and Tower Operators

Crane and tower operators use construction equipment with a tower or mechanical boom and cable to move heavy materials or machinery. Many of these operators work at shipping ports where they are responsible for loading and unloading cargo for global trade.

The median salary for crane and tower operators was $51,650 as of 2015, according to the BLS. The number of new jobs for this occupation is expected to increase 8% between 2014 and 2024.

Operating Engineers

Operating engineers use several types of construction equipment for excavating, loading, and grading. This equipment may include bulldozers, tractors, and front-end loaders. In addition to operating these machines, operating may also be responsible for maintaining and repairing construction equipment.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), operating engineers earned a median salary of $44,600 per year. The BLS predicts a 10% uptick in job opportunities for operating engineers between 2014 and 2024, which is faster than the national average for all occupations.

All three of these career paths require knowledge of how to operate machinery safely and effectively. Specialization is important in determining available opportunities after completing certification. Of course, those in these positions may also receive training on the job that will provide them with similar skills and knowledge.


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