Material moving machine operators use machinery to transport various objects. Some operators move construction materials around building sites or excavate earth from a mine. Others move goods around a warehouse or onto container ships.

What Do Crane Operators Do?

Duties

Material moving machine operators typically do the following:

  • Set up and inspect material moving equipment
  • Control equipment with levers, wheels, or foot pedals
  • Move material according to a plan or schedule
  • Signal and direct workers to load, unload, and position materials
  • Keep a record of the material they move and where they move it to
  • Make minor repairs to their equipment

In warehouses, most material moving machine operators use forklifts and conveyor belts. Wireless sensors and tags are increasingly being used to keep track of merchandise, allowing operators to locate them faster. Some operators also check goods for damage. These operators usually work closely with hand laborers and material movers.

Many operators work for underground and surface mining companies. They help to dig or expose the mine, remove the earth and rock, and extract coal, ore, and other mined materials.

In construction, material moving machine operators remove earth to clear space for buildings. Some work on a building site for the entire length of the construction project. For example, certain material moving machine operators help to construct highrise buildings by transporting materials to workers who are far above ground level.

All material moving machine operators are responsible for the safe operation of their equipment or vehicle.

The following are examples of types of material moving machine operators:

Conveyor operators and tenders control conveyor systems that move materials on an automatic belt. They move materials to and from places such as storage areas, vehicles, and building sites. They monitor sensors on the conveyor to regulate the speed with which the conveyor belt moves. Operators also may check the shipping order and determine the route that materials take along a conveyor.

Crane and tower operators use tower and cable equipment to lift and move materials, machinery, or other heavy objects. From a control station, operators can extend and retract horizontal booms, rotate the superstructure, and lower and raise hooks attached to cables at the end of their crane or tower. Operators usually are guided by workers on the ground who use hand signals or who transmit voice signals through a radio. Most crane and tower operators work at construction sites or major ports, where they load and unload cargo. Some operators work in iron and steel mills.

Dredge operators excavate waterways. They operate equipment on the water to remove sand, gravel, or rock from harbors or lakes. Removing these materials helps to prevent erosion and maintain navigable waterways, and allows larger ships to use ports. Dredging also is used to help restore wetlands and maintain beaches.

Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators use machines equipped with scoops or shovels. They dig sand, earth, or other materials and load them onto conveyors or into trucks for transport elsewhere. They may also move material within a confined area, such as a construction site. Operators typically receive instructions from workers on the ground through hand signals or through voice signals transmitted by radio. Most of these operators work in construction or mining industries.

Hoist and winch operators, also called derrick operators, control the movement of platforms, cables, and cages that transport workers or materials in industrial operations, such as constructing a highrise building. Many of these operators raise platforms far above the ground. Operators regulate the speed of the equipment on the basis of the needs of the workers. Many work in manufacturing, mining, and quarrying industries.

Industrial truck and tractor operators drive trucks and tractors that move materials around warehouses, storage yards, or worksites. These trucks, often called forklifts, have a lifting mechanism and forks, which make them useful for moving heavy and large objects. Some industrial truck and tractor operators drive tractors that pull trailers loaded with material around factories or storage areas.

Underground mining loading machine operators load coal, ore, and other rocks onto shuttles, mine cars, or conveyors for transport from a mine to the surface. They may use power shovels, hoisting engines equipped with scrapers or scoops, and automatic gathering arms that move materials onto a conveyor. Operators also drive their machines farther into the mine in order to gather more material.

Career Snapshot

Construction Crane Operators operate mechanical boom and cable or tower and cable equipment to lift and move materials, machines, or products in many directions.  Also, operate or tend hoists or winches to lift and pull loads using power-operated cable equipment.

(Some job titles include: Winchman/Crane Operator, Woodyard Crane Operator, Port Crane Operator, Crane Operator, Machine Operator, Scrap Crane Operator, Overhead Crane Operator, Heavy Equipment Operator, Mobile Crane Operator, Electrical Traveling Overhead Crane Operator (ETOC Operator), Hoist Operator, Hoistman)

Job Details

Construction Crane Operators typically do the following:

  • Set up and inspect material moving equipment
  • Control equipment with levers, wheels, or foot pedals
  • Record production data such as weights, types, quantities, and storage locations of materials, as well as equipment performance problems and downtime.
  • Signal and direct workers to load, unload, and position materials
  • Inform supervisors of equipment malfunctions that need to be addressed
  • Make minor repairs to their equipment

Education and Experience

A high school diploma or equivalent is required for most jobs in this trade sub-sector. Vocational training and math courses are useful, and a course in auto mechanics can be helpful because workers often perform maintenance on their equipment. 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.  Apprenticeships combine on-the-job training with technical instruction, usually requiring a predetermined number of hours for both.

Some states require an occupational license to work in this career.

Career Outlook

  • Annual pay: Crane operators in 2019 earned a salary between $40,000-$69,000
  • Employment growth forecast 2018-2028: 5%
  • Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent

Career Growth Opportunity

Workers in this area do best with a mechanical working knowledge machines and tools, including their designs, uses, repair and maintenance.  As well, employment opportunities should be best in metropolitan areas, where most large commercial and residential buildings are constructed, and in states that undertake large transportation-related projects. Because apprentices learn to operate a wider variety of machines than do other beginners, they usually have better job opportunities.  Workers who can operate multiple types of material moving equipment should have the best job opportunities.

Professional Associations

  • Association of Crane and Rigging - ACRP is a nonprofit association whose mission is dedicated to improving crane operations and rigging activities in all industries.
  • International Union of Operating Engineers - IUOE is a progressive, diversified trade union that primarily represents operating engineers, who work as heavy equipment operators, mechanics, and surveyors in the construction industry, and stationary engineers, who work in operations and maintenance in building and industrial complexes, and in the service industries.
  • National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators - NCCCO is a non-profit organization with a mission to develop effective performance standards for safe load handling equipment operation to assist all segments of general industry and construction.
  • Foundation for Trades - The goal of the Foundation for Trades organization is to help a new generation see the value of working with their hands and appreciating a job well done by hard work and talent. We offer a foundation of knowledge in the areas of building trades that will help propel an ever-diminishing workforce toward a rewarding future.
  • Specialized Careers and Rigging Association - The mission of SC&RA is to advocate, educate and provide networking opportunities that help industry stakeholders operate safely, legally and profitably around the world.
  • Trades Women - Founded in 1979 as a grassroots support organization, the mission of Trades Women is outreach, recruitment, retention and leadership development for women in blue-collar skilled craft.
  • TEACH Construction - TEACH Construction focuses on creating curriculum, and the related Instructional Resources, for the teaching of basic to intermediate skills in construction.
  • North America’s Building Trades Union - NABTU is dedicated to the stability of employment and economic security of organized construction workers in North America. Its purpose is to create more work opportunities, achieve living wages and protect benefit standards, not just for the members of its 14 national and international union affiliates, but for all construction workers.
  • National Skilled Trades Network - NSTN is a National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER) Accredited Training Sponsor (ATS) and seeks to support youth and young adults in under-served communities in acquiring the skills needed to become certified skilled trades workers and employable in the lucrative skilled trades industry.
  • SkillsUSA - SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. Its mission is to help each student excel. A non-profit national education association, SkillsUSA serves middle-school, high-school and college/postsecondary students preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled service (including health) occupations.
  • AEC Business - This website is a blog and podcast forum for construction innovations. It is a great resource for construction business owners looking to up their game with strategic insights. Filled with useful how-to's and a simple writing style, it’s a must-read for construction managers wanting to stay “in the know.”
  • National Association of Home Builders  - NAHB represents the largest network of craftsmen, innovators and problem solvers dedicated to building and enriching communities operating at the local, state and national levels.
  • National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) - This mission of this organization is to build a safe, productive and sustainable workforce of craft professionals.  Their vision is to be universally recognized by industry and government as the training, assessment, certification and career development standard for construction and maintenance craft professionals.
  • Association of Equipment Management Professionals - AEMP is the premier organization serving those who manage and maintain heavy, off-road fleets.  Their mission is building excellence in Equipment management.
  • Pile Driving Contractors Association - The Pile Driving Contractors Association (PDCA) is an organization of pile driving contractors that advocates the increased use of driven piles for deep foundations and earth retention systems.
  • The Associated General Contractors of America - The Associated General Contractors of America works to ensure the continued success of the commercial construction industry by advocating for federal, state and local measures that support the industry.
  • The Building Trades Alliance - BTA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of the building trades and to the partnership between the various building trade unions and contractors that drives progress throughout our nation.

Publications and Magazines

Certification and Training Organizations