Heavy equipment operators and mechanics are generally required to have a high school diploma or GED. Operators usually begin training through an apprenticeship, though certificate programs in heavy equipment operation are also available. Heavy machinery mechanics typically enroll in a heavy equipment technician program. These programs can last one to three years.
Heavy machinery professionals should have knowledge of construction processes. Because many heavy equipment operators and mechanics work with construction crews to reach goals, they should have good communication and teamwork skills. They should be able to follow strict safety guidelines and federal regulations.
Heavy Equipment Operation Apprenticeship
A heavy equipment operation apprenticeship generally requires three years of study and a minimum of 6,000 hours of paid training. Apprenticeships also include classroom training, but because most skills can only be practiced with heavy equipment, traditional classroom learning is minimal. In an apprenticeship, beginning heavy equipment operators work with experienced operators and earn progressively advanced responsibilities. After completing an apprenticeship, heavy equipment operators can seek professional employment.
Heavy Equipment Operation Certificate
A heavy equipment operation certificate program is an alternative to an apprenticeship. In a certificate program, students learn how to maneuver and maintain large vehicles and perform basic mechanical procedures. Students become familiar with safety policies and basic construction processes. Programs can require one or more semesters of study and may include courses in:
- Proper heavy equipment operation
- Basic surveying techniques
- Heavy equipment maintenance
- Electrical and fuel systems
- Heavy equipment tune-ups
Diesel and Heavy Equipment Technician Certificate
Heavy equipment mechanics and technicians can enroll in a certificate program to learn about the mechanical workings of heavy vehicles. Students perform maintenance and installation duties and learn how to use specialized tools for larger engines and vehicles. With this certificate, students can find employment with many types of construction, trucking and waste management companies. Programs include courses on:
- Diesel technology
- Heavy vehicle drivetrains
- Brake and suspension systems
- Heavy equipment preventative maintenance
- Heavy equipment engine diagnostics
- Diesel engine repair
Popular Career Options
Individuals who get training in heavy machinery can work in the private and public sector. Popular job titles include heavy machinery operator, construction worker, transportation operator and materials moving machine operator.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The BLS states that the employment for material moving machine operators is expected to grow 3% from 2014-2024. For construction equipment operators in the same time frame, the employment is expected to grow 10%, which is faster than average. Transportation and material moving operators, as of May 2015, made a mean annual wage of $35,160.
Licenses and Certifications
Heavy equipment professionals must have a current driver's license and, in most cases, a commercial driver's license (CDL). Because most heavy equipment vehicles are larger than standard vehicles, operators and mechanics must be able to demonstrate proficiency in heavy equipment operation. CDL training courses and short-term programs are offered by truck driving organizations and companies. To obtain a CDL, drivers must pass a written exam and a driving assessment. Truck driving training companies typically rent large trucks for drivers to use for testing purposes. The Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) maintains a list of acceptable CDL courses, programs and schools.
Workshops and Seminars
Heavy equipment workshops are typically held by employers during apprenticeships or on-the-job training programs. Employers offer workshops for newly hired or entry-level heavy equipment professionals who need to use a specific vehicle, like a bulldozer, dump truck or grader. Although formal training programs teach students how to operate vehicles, programs may not have access to every type of heavy vehicle, so on-the-job workshops allow operators and mechanics to gain sufficient experience before operation.
The National Association of Heavy Equipment Training Schools (NAHETS) is an association of schools that offers heavy equipment programs and resources for career advancement. The NAHETS publishes a blog with industry news stories, product manufacturing information, safety standards and regulations and opportunities for training and education.
For jobs, heavy equipment sales and industry trends, heavy equipment operators can read Machinery Trader magazine, which is published in print and online. The magazine provides information on educational programs, financial lending organizations in heavy equipment, ethical issues in heavy equipment operation and industry trade shows. Machinery Trader is published weekly in three regions across the country.
Students aiming for a career involving heavy machinery usually get started within apprenticeships or certificate programs that provide hands-on training. They can also look into the programs and resources housed by The National Association of Heavy Equipment Training Schools. The ability to operate heavy machinery can help students enter a variety of fields, some requiring the obtaining of a commercial driver's license.