Watching huge bulldozers, graders and earthmovers in action fascinates most people – but only a skilled few can actually operate them. Construction equipment operators use machinery to move earth, construction materials, and other heavy supplies. They prepare sites for major construction projects such as roads, bridges, and buildings, and also mines, dams, and other structures. Construction equipment operators work in all kinds of weather, and often get dirty, greasy, muddy, or dusty. Equipment can be noisy, and make no mistake – safety practices are essential. Communication is key in this field, but typically conducted with hand or audio signals rather than conversation. These workers generally work full time, at times in remote locations. Some projects demand around the clock shifts. Operators specialize in different equipment. Operating Engineers work with power construction equipment like bulldozers, trench excavators, and road graders. Paving and Surfacing Equipment Operators spread and smooth asphalt or concrete for roadways or other structures. Pile-Driver Operators use large machines to hammer heavy beams – called piles – into the ground for supporting bridges, piers, or building foundations. After earning a high school diploma or equivalent, many workers learn on the job starting with light equipment. Some attend vocational schools or learn through an apprenticeship. Most jobs require a commercial driver’s license to haul equipment to jobsites.

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

What Do Paving and Surfacing Machine Operators Do?

Duties

Construction equipment operators typically do the following:

  • Clean and maintain equipment, making basic repairs as necessary
  • Report malfunctioning equipment to supervisors
  • Move levers, push pedals, or turn valves to control equipment
  • Drive and maneuver equipment
  • Coordinate machine actions with crew members using hand or audio signals
  • Follow safety standards

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.

  • Asphalt spreader operators turn valves to regulate the temperature and flow of asphalt being applied to the roadbed. They must ensure a constant flow of asphalt into the hopper and that the machine distributes the paving material evenly.
  • Concrete paving machine operators control levers and turn handwheels to move attachments that spread, vibrate, and level wet concrete. They must watch the surface of the concrete carefully to identify low spots that need additional concrete.
  • Tamping equipment operators use machines that compact earth and other fill materials for roadbeds, railroads, or other construction sites. They also may operate machines with interchangeable hammers to cut or break up old pavement and drive guardrail posts into the ground.

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.

Career Snapshot

Workers in the Paving and Sealing construction sub-sector operate equipment used for applying concrete, asphalt, or other materials to road beds, parking lots, or airport runways and taxiways, or equipment used for tamping gravel, dirt, or other materials. Includes concrete and asphalt paving machine operators, form tampers, tamping machine operators, and stone spreader operators.

(Some job titles include: Asphalt Paver Operator, Asphalt Raker, Equipment Operator, Maintenance Equipment Operator, Operator, Paver Operator, Roller Operator, Screed Operator)

Job Details

Paving and Sealing workers typically do the following:

  • Spread asphalt or other aggregate mixtures
  • Operate road-surfacing equipment
  • Direct construction or extraction personnel
  • Monitor construction operations
  • Direct vehicle traffic
  • Maintain construction tools or equipment
  • Inspect equipment or tools to be used in construction or excavation
  • Clean equipment or facilities
  • Compact materials to create level bases

Education and Experience - Paving and Sealing workers learn their trade through on-the-job training (OJT). The length of training depends on the employer and the specialization. Formal education is not typically required.

Career Outlook

  • Annual pay: Paving and Sealing workers earned an average base salary of $48,000 in May 2019
  • Employment growth forecast 2018-2028: 10%
  • Entry-level education: Most have a high school diploma or equivalent

Job Prospects

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

  • National Asphalt Sealcoat Manufacturers Association - This organization is a trade association made up of manufacturers, contractors, suppliers, and others involved in the asphalt sealcoating industry.
  • Asphalt Emulsion Manufacturers Association - AEMA exists to promote the increased and more efficient use of asphalt emulsions. The Association serves as a forum for discussion, a clearinghouse of information, and a platform of action for the asphalt emulsion industry.
  • Women of Asphalt - WofA is a national coalition which supports women in all aspects of the asphalt industry through mentoring, education, and advocacy and by encouraging women to seek careers in the asphalt industry.
  • National Asphalt Pavement Association - NAPA supports an active research program designed to improve the quality of asphalt pavements and paving techniques used in the construction of roads, streets, highways, parking lots, airports, and environmental and recreational facilities.
  • Laborers’ International Union of North America - LIUNA members are a skilled and experienced union workforce trained to work safely in the construction and energy industries. Members help build the Country’s infrastructure - from roads, bridges, and transit to schools and skyscrapers.
  • American Subcontractors Association  - ASA seeks to promote the rights and interests of subcontractors, specialty contractors and suppliers by building strength in community through education, advocacy, networking and professional growth.
  • Associated Builders and Contractors - ABC's membership represents all specialties within the U.S. construction industry and is comprised primarily of firms that perform work in the industrial and commercial sectors.
  • LIUNA Training and Education Fund - LIUNA Training and Education Fund is an important part of the Laborers’ International Union of North America and one of the premier adult training organizations in the world.
  • Associated Builders and Contractors - ABC's mission is the advancement of the merit shop construction philosophy, which encourages open competition and a free enterprise approach that awards contracts based solely on merit, regardless of labor affiliation.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.

Publications and Magazines

  • Asphalt Pavement Magazine - provides the industry with the latest news on asphalt pavement technology and innovations
  • Asphalt Pro Magazine - a magazine serving the asphalt industry with a regular rotation of high-quality content integral to running a successful asphalt plant or paving operation.
  • Construction Today - This online magazine is all about best practices in the general building, heavy construction and associated specialty trade sectors.
  • Asphalt Magazine - publication of the Asphalt Institute
  • Constructor Magazine - official magazine of AGC Construction Association
  • Construction Equipment Guide - offers construction and industry news and information along with new and used construction equipment for sale from dealers in your area.
  • Equipment Today - articles (equipment selection, maintenance, management, protection and regulation)...
  • Maintenance, Reliability and Operations - podcasts, features, news, check out their ‘Redwire’!...