What They Do: Construction equipment operators drive, maneuver, or control the heavy machinery used to construct roads, buildings and other structures.
Work Environment: Construction equipment operators work in nearly all weather conditions. They often get dirty, greasy, muddy, or dusty. The majority of operators work full time, and some operators have irregular work schedules. Some construction projects, especially road building, are done at night.
How to Become One: Many workers learn equipment operation on the job after earning a high school diploma or equivalent, and others learn through an apprenticeship or by attending vocational schools.
Salary: The median annual wage for construction equipment operators is $48,290.
Job Outlook: Overall employment of construction equipment operators is projected to grow 5 percent over the next ten years, slower than the average for all occupations.
Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of construction equipment operators with similar occupations.
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Construction equipment operators drive, maneuver, or control the heavy machinery used to construct roads, bridges, buildings, and other structures.
Construction equipment operators typically do the following:
Construction equipment operators use machinery to move construction materials, earth, and other heavy materials at construction sites and mines. They operate equipment that clears and grades land to prepare it for the construction of roads, bridges, and buildings, as well as runways, power generation facilities, dams, levees, and other structures.
The following are examples of types of construction equipment operators:
Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators work with one or several types of power construction equipment. They may operate excavation and loading machines equipped with scoops, shovels, or buckets that dig sand, gravel, earth, or similar materials. In addition to operating bulldozers, they operate trench excavators, road graders, and similar equipment. Sometimes, they may drive and control industrial trucks or tractors equipped with forklifts or booms for lifting materials. They may also operate and maintain air compressors, pumps, and other power equipment at construction sites.
Paving and surfacing equipment operators control the machines that spread and level asphalt or spread and smooth concrete for roadways or other structures.
Pile-driver operators use large machines mounted on skids, barges, or cranes to hammer piles into the ground. Piles are long, heavy beams of concrete, wood, or steel driven into the ground to support retaining walls, bridges, piers, or building foundations. Some pile-driver operators work on offshore oil rigs.
Construction equipment operators hold about 457,200 jobs. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up construction equipment operators is distributed as follows:
|Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators||408,500|
|Paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators||44,800|
The largest employers of construction equipment operators are as follows:
|Heavy and civil engineering construction||30%|
|Specialty trade contractors||29%|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||13%|
|Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction||6%|
|Construction of buildings||5%|
Construction equipment operators work in nearly every weather condition, although rain or extremely cold weather can stop some types of construction. Workers often get dirty, greasy, muddy, or dusty. Some operators work in remote locations on large construction projects, such as highways and dams, or in factories or mines.
Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. Slips, falls, and transportation incidents can generally be avoided by observing proper operating procedures and safety practices. Bulldozers, scrapers, and especially pile-drivers, are noisy and shake or jolt the operator, which may lead to repetitive stress injuries.
Construction equipment operators may have irregular schedules because work on construction projects must sometimes continue around the clock or be done late at night. The majority of construction equipment operators work full time.
Get the education you need: Find schools for Construction Equipment Operators near you!
Many workers learn equipment operation on the job after earning a high school diploma or equivalent, while others learn through an apprenticeship or by attending vocational schools.
A high school diploma or equivalent is required for most jobs. Vocational training and math courses are useful, and a course in auto mechanics can be helpful because workers often perform maintenance on their equipment.
Learning at vocational schools may be beneficial in finding a job. Schools may specialize in a particular brand or type of construction equipment.
Some schools incorporate sophisticated simulator training into their courses, allowing beginners to familiarize themselves with the equipment in a virtual environment before operating real machines.
Many workers learn their jobs by operating light equipment under the guidance of an experienced operator. Later, they may operate heavier equipment, such as bulldozers. Some construction equipment with computerized controls requires greater skill to operate. Operators of such equipment may need more training and some understanding of electronics.
Other workers learn their trade through a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship. For each year of the program, apprentices must have at least 144 hours of technical instruction and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. On the job, apprentices learn to maintain equipment, operate machinery, and use technology, such as Global Positioning System (GPS) devices. In the classroom, apprentices learn operating procedures for equipment, safety practices, and first aid, as well as how to read grading plans.
A few groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. The basic qualifications for entering an apprenticeship program are as follows:
After completing an apprenticeship program, apprentices are considered journey workers and perform tasks with less guidance.
Construction equipment operators often need a commercial driver's license (CDL) to haul their equipment to various jobsites. State laws governing CDLs vary.
A few states have special licenses for operators of backhoes, loaders, and bulldozers.
Currently, 17 states require pile-driver operators to have a crane license because similar operational concerns apply to both pile-drivers and cranes. In addition, the cities of Chicago, Cincinnati, New Orleans, New York, Omaha, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC require special crane licensure.
Hand-eye-foot coordination. Construction equipment operators should have steady hands and feet to guide and control heavy machinery precisely, sometimes in tight spaces.
Mechanical skills. Construction equipment operators often perform basic maintenance on the equipment they operate. As a result, they should be familiar with hand and power tools and standard equipment care.
Physical strength. Construction equipment operators may be required to lift more than 50 pounds as part of their duties.
Unafraid of heights. Construction equipment operators may work at great heights. For example, pile-driver operators may need to service the pulleys located at the top of the pile-driver's tower, which may be several stories tall.
The median annual wage for construction equipment operators is $48,290. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $35,770, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $84,640.
Median annual wages for construction equipment operators are as follows:
|Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators||$48,360|
|Paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators||$46,960|
The median annual wages for construction equipment operators in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Heavy and civil engineering construction||$58,440|
|Construction of buildings||$51,180|
|Specialty trade contractors||$48,370|
|Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction||$47,860|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||$46,730|
Apprentices receive less pay than fully trained construction equipment operators. They receive pay increases as they learn more skills.
Construction equipment operators may have irregular schedules, such as continuing around the clock or late into the night. Most construction equipment operators work full time, and some work more than 40 hours per week. The work may be seasonal in areas of the country that experience extreme cold.
Overall employment of construction equipment operators is projected to grow 5 percent over the next ten years, slower than the average for all occupations.
Despite limited employment growth, about 51,500 openings for construction equipment operators are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
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Employment growth is expected to vary across the construction equipment operator occupations.
Spending on infrastructure is expected to increase, resulting in some new jobs over the decade. Across the country, many roads, bridges, and water and sewer systems are in need of repair. In addition, population growth will require new infrastructure, such as roads and sewer lines, the projects for which are expected to generate jobs.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2020||Projected Employment, 2030||Change, 2020-30|
|Construction equipment operators||457,200||482,100||5||24,900|
|Paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators||44,800||47,400||6||2,500|
|Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators||408,500||430,700||5||22,200|
A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.