Heavy equipment operators maneuver and manipulate the heavy machinery and equipment used in construction work.

What Heavy Equipment / Earth Moving Equipment Operators Do.

Construction projects such as the erection of buildings and the production of roads and bridges require the use of heavy machinery, and this machinery requires skilled workers to operate it effectively and safely. These workers deftly operate heavy machinery and equipment to move construction materials, large amounts of earth, or other heavy items, and to clear land in preparation for construction. Examples of heavy equipment which these workers operate include cranes, bulldozers, excavation and loading machines, pavers, and pile drivers. In addition to driving and controlling these machines, heavy equipment operators must perform cleaning and minor repairs and communicate with other crew members in order to complete work efficiently and safely.

Career Snapshot

Construction equipment operators drive, maneuver, or control the heavy machinery used to construct roads, buildings and other structures.

Some job titles include: Back Hoe Operator, Engineering Equipment Operator, Equipment Operator, Heavy Equipment Operator, Loader Operator, Machine Operator, Motor Grader Operator, Operating Engineer, Operator, Track Hoe Operator

Job Details

Construction equipment operators typically do the following:

  • Start engines, move throttles, switches, or levers, or depress pedals to operate machines, such as bulldozers, trench excavators, road graders, or backhoes.
  • Coordinate machine actions with other activities, positioning or moving loads in response to hand or audio signals from crew members.
  • Load and move dirt, rocks, equipment, or other materials, using trucks, crawler tractors, power cranes, shovels, graders, or related equipment.
  • Check fuel supplies at sites to ensure adequate availability.
  • Drive and maneuver equipment equipped with blades in successive passes over working areas to remove topsoil, vegetation, or rocks or to distribute and level earth or terrain.
  • Clean and maintain equipment, making basic repairs as necessary
  • Report malfunctioning equipment to supervisors
  • Move levers, push pedals, or turn valves to control equipment
  • Coordinate machine actions with crew members using hand or audio signals
  • Follow safety standards

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.

Construction equipment operators often need a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to haul their equipment to various jobsites. State laws governing CDLs vary.

Career Outlook

  • Annual pay: Construction equipment operators typically earn an average base salary of $45,000
  • Employment growth forecast 2018-2028: 10%
  • Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent

Career Growth Opportunity

Workers with the ability to operate multiple types of equipment should have the best job opportunities. In addition, 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.  Spending on infrastructure is expected to increase, resulting in new positions over the next 10 years. Workers who can operate multiple types of equipment should have the best job opportunities.

Professional Associations

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operator - NCCCO aims to enhance lifting equipment safety, reduce workplace risk, improve performance records, stimulate training, and give due recognition to the professionals who work in, with, and around load handling equipment.
  • 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