Construction Equipment Operators are responsible for operating the machinery that helps prepare, build, and lay the groundwork for infrastructure. They operate heavy machinery that transports and moves construction materials for roads, buildings, bridges, airport runways, power generation facilities, dams, levees, and many other structures. They also specialize in operating machines that dig trenches, spread asphalt, and clear and grade land. Construction Equipment Operators may work at construction sites, mines, or off-shore oil rigs.
Although sometimes a dirty job, high hourly pay, good job availability, and the ability to work in the outdoors attract many to this field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 63% of Construction Equipment Operators working in heavy construction or civil engineering construction, building things like highways, bridges and railroads. 16% work for local government and 3% are self-employed. Others work in mining, or for manufacturing and utility companies. Many operations are halted in the winter time, as inclimate weather can impeade work.
Hourly salary for a Construction Equipment Operator is generally between $14.78 and $25.49. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage is $18.88, with the lowest 10 percent earning $12.47, and the highest earning $33.34 per hour. Due to the nature of this work, some may experience period of unemployment during economic fluctuations. Operators may not be able to run machines in bad weather, which has an affect on the total annual wage.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Job Description and Outlook
Construction Equipment Operators use machines to move dirt, construction, and heavy materials. They help set up, inspect, and make adjustments to the equipment. Occasionally they provide maintenance and minor repairs to equipment. There are different kinds of equipment operators, including paving and surfacing equipment operators, as well as piledriver operators. Some specialize in operating 1 or many different machines. Operating under the strictest safety guidelines, many operate excavating and loading equipment, bulldozers and trench excavators, road graders, industrial trucks, and air compressors and pumps.
Paving and surfacing equipment operators specialize in spreading and leveling asphalt for roads and other structures. They regulate the flow of asphalt onto the roadbed and make sure that everything is smooth and distributed evenly. Piledriver operators use large machines that hammer long, heavy beams of wood or steal, called piles, into the ground. Piles are important for supporting retaining walls, bulkheads, bridges, piers, and building foundations. Some pile drivers work on off-shore oil-rigs.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports average job growth with good job opportunities. They expect an increase of employment by 12% from 2008-2018. The Federal Government continues to increase spending for the construction and upkeep of infrastructure, and there never seems to be enough qualified people to fill all of the jobs, providing a good job outlook for this field.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Training and Education Requirements
Construction Equipment Operators are trained through a combination of on-the-job training, formal apprenticeship programs, or paid training programs. Most employers require a high school diploma. During high school, those that wish to go on to a career in Construction Equipment Operation should take courses in auto mechanic, science, and mechanical drawing. The occasional machine maintenance that operators perform makes courses in auto mechanics helpful. Experience with computers is also useful. Due to the recent developments in GPS technology, more machines are equipped with GPS for grading and leveling.
Construction Equipment Operators find better job opportunities with formal training. Formal training means that the operator has more comprehensive skills, which many employers find desirable. Formal operating engineering apprenticeship programs are administered by the union management committees of the International Union of Operating Engineers. Many of their training facilities have simulators that allow students to feel like they are operating machines in a controlled environment.
Apprenticeships are comprised of 3 years, or 6,000 hours of on-the-job training, with 144 hours of classroom education. On-the-job training usually begins with smaller machines in a supervised setting, leading to larger machines. Training is especially important for machines with computerized controls, improved hydraulics, and electronics, as these machines require more specialized skills.
Private vocational schools offer courses for Construction Equipment Operators. Attending a private vocational school can be helpful when trying to get a job. However, it is important that the school offer hands-on training in real-life situations, as the hands-on nature of this work is much more important than classroom learning.
As with any occupation, prior experience in the field is always a plus. In some cases, employers tend to hire certified Construction Equipment Operators. Certifications prove to employers that the operator is skilled, and can handle the equipment. Operators can qualify for certifications during their schooling based on the requirements of certain professional associations. In many cases, a commercial driver’s license is needed to operate certain machines. Commercial driver’s licenses are obtained through the state, and requirements are based on regulations set by the state.
There are two professional associations that Construction Equipment Operators can join. The first is the International Union of Operating Engineers, boasting over 400,000 members. The IUOE manages over 120 unions. The second professional association is specifically for piledriver operators. The Piledriving Contractors Association advocates and supports the use of piledrivers.