Heavy Equipment Operator Jobs: Salary and Career Facts

Learn about diploma and certificate programs for those interested in operating heavy equipment, such as backhoes and forklifts. Also, find out operator salaries and job duties. Schools offering Supply Chain Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Training Do I Need for a Job as a Heavy Equipment Operator?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the main educational requirement for a heavy equipment operator is a high school diploma, although some employers seek applicants who have some formal training (www.bls.gov). Training programs are available at community colleges and commonly result in certificates or diplomas. Associate's degree programs are also available, but they're less common. Often, these programs require that you have a commercial driver's license prior to enrollment.

In these certificate programs, you can sometimes choose two types of heavy equipment upon which to focus; some programs require the completion of general instruction in heavy equipment operation. Still, some programs require that you take courses focusing on each of the different types of equipment you may encounter, including backhoes, forklifts, bulldozers, wheel-loaders and excavators. Certificates may require a minimum of 15 credits for completion.

Diploma programs require completion of more courses than certificate programs do. You can expect to take courses in construction safety, construction theory, preventative maintenance and even welding. You may be required to complete courses where you learn to operate graders, backhoes or excavators as part of your training. Diploma programs can take up to two years to complete in some cases.

What Might My Duties Be?

As a crane or tower operator, you'd utilize pedals and levers in order to operate cranes and other equipment to lift and move materials for placement onto a truck, solid ground or specified locations. You'd be responsible for cleaning and maintaining cables, pulleys and other devices to prevent problems. You'd direct truck drivers in their delivery of materials and load or unload materials as well, according to the Occupational Information Network (www.onetonline.org).

Excavator or loading machine operators use equipment with a scoop or shovel to take earth, sand and other materials from their original locations to other areas or onto trucks to be transported. The BLS notes that this equipment is often used in the mining industry.

As a forklift or industrial truck and tractor operator, your duties would likely include running equipment that moves construction supplies or other products, depending on the type of business your employer would work in. The Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC), states that potential duties could include pulling and preparing products to ship, maintaining equipment to ensure safety and stacking and storing product in approved locations (www.werc.org).

How Much Can I Earn?

In 2009, 40,770 people held jobs as crane and tower operators in the United States. The BLS notes that most of these employees earned $13.31-$35.16 per hour, or $27,690-$73,140 in that year. In Nevada, where there were 220 crane and tower operators employed, workers averaged $35.66 per hour. By contrast, workers in Mississippi earned $18.11 per hour, according to the BLS.

For the 57,990 individuals who worked as excavating and loading machine or dragline operators in 2009, the opportunity to make the most money was in natural gas distribution, where workers earned an average hourly wage of $33.69, according to the BLS. The second highest-paying industry was support activities for water transportation, where employees earned an average of $29.21 per hour. Most employees earned an average of $11.71-$28.73 per hour, according to the BLS.

In 2009, many forklift operators earned $23,614-$39,330 in 2009, according to Salary.com. The BLS, which includes forklift operators among industrial truck and tractor operators, reports that there were 568,270 employed in this category. Industrial truck and tractor operators between the 10th-90th percentiles earned $20,570-$45,070 in 2009, according to the BLS.

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