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Construction Equipment Operator Careers, Jobs and Training Information

Career and Job Highlights

Most professionals in this industry learn their trade on the job, though some complete formal apprenticeships which provide a more thorough education. Opportunities in this area are projected to be excellent for incoming workers. Workers usually have a high hourly wage, but may not have high net annual earnings as they number of hours they work can be limited by factors like bad weather.

Equipment Operator Career Overview

Operators of construction equipment are generally involved in either transporting building materials or fill, or in application of construction materials like concrete. They use heavy machinery or vehicles which they operate by using foot pedals, levers, switches, wheels, and dials. As more equipment becomes computerized it requires more complex actions and greater knowledge. Operators may also be responsible for their equipment even when not actually using it, which can involve inspecting, repairing, maintaining, and set up.

There are many types of construction equipment operators.

  • Operating engineers/other construction equipment operators: They are at the controls of many kinds of powered construction machinery. They might operate bulldozers, road graders, or trench excavators to excavate and move earth onto trucks to be moved away. Other jobs might include using a forklift to transport materials or pulling trailers full of materials or fill. They might also use air pumps, compressors, or many other types of equipment. Workers who are designated as operating engineers are competent in using numerous different pieces of equipment and machinery.
  • Paving/Surfacing equipment operators: They control machines that apply asphalt and concrete in the construction of roads and other edifices.
  • Asphalt paving machine operators: They operate valves to control how warm asphalt is and how quickly it flows onto the site of the road. They have to pay attention to the application of the asphalt to make sure it is uniform and smooth and to ensure that there is a continuous stream of asphalt entering the hopper.
  • Concrete paving machine operators: These people use levels or hand-operated wheels to operate attachments that apply damp concrete into forms, and even it out. They have to pay close attention to the concrete’s surface to make sure that there are no areas that are too shallow or thick. Using other attachments, they level the surface of the concrete, cut expansion seams, and apply a curing mixture.
  • Tamping equipment operators: They use tamping machines that compress dirt and other materials that make the foundations of roads. They might also use other tools like hammers to sink posts for guardrails into the ground or to smash old pavement for transport.
  • Piledriver Operators: They use large machines called piledrivers that pound large posts of steel or wood, called piles, into the earth. These machines are usually connected to cranes, boats, skids, or offshore oilrigs. Operators control them using hand levers, foot levers, valves, and switches.
    Most construction equipment operators spend most of their time outside and are exposed to the elements, though many areas put construction on hold during winter months. Most of the large machines they operate are extremely loud, vibrate strongly, and can jerk the operator. Operators have to adhere to strict safety guidelines. They often work in extreme heat or cold and the equipment and construction site can make leave them grimy and covered in dust at the end of the day.

Many operators work unusual hours as some projects are under construction twenty-four hours a day or have to be completed during the night. For instance, a highway may need to be closed to be worked on and so work can only be done between midnight and five am. Also, some projects like reservoirs, mines, freeways, or factories are in distant locations.

Career Training and Qualifications for Equipment Operators

Most operators gain expertise through observation and experience. A formal apprenticeship, however, usually provides more thorough training. The Associated General Contractors of America and the International Union of Operating Engineers run an apprenticeship program that takes three years or 6,000 hours to complete and involve practical and classroom instruction. Individuals who complete apprenticeships will have better employment prospects as they’ll gain expertise in a number of diverse areas.

Most hirers look for high school graduates, though a diploma isn’t always necessary. Some extra skill is needed to operate new equipment that uses more computer-based controls and cutting-edge hydraulic and electronic systems. To operate this new technology may require some extra training in electronics or computer science. Training in mechanical engineering or auto mechanics will be beneficial as some operators make repairs on their equipment themselves. Experience gained operating machinery in the Armed Forces or in other places, like knowing how to operate a tractor, will also be helpful.

Many vocational or technical schools have programs in equipment operation. Different schools require different levels of expertise, and so applicants should research their institution to see what reputation it has in the profession. Certification from a respected school can help an applicant land a position as a trainee or apprentice.

To start with, new operators run only light equipment and are usually supervised by someone more experienced. With experience and competence they will be given more responsibility and handle cranes or piledrivers. Candidates for positions as equipment operators have to by physically fit, be coordinated, have good depth perception, and be able to work comfortably in elevated areas.

Equipment Operator Job and Employment Opportunities

Forecasts show that equipment operators will have excellent prospects in coming years. This is the result of a lack of good training programs and a shortage of workers because many people prefer less uncomfortable working environments.

Job growth is predicted to proceed at the average of all employment, even taking into account technological advances that will perform more of the work of equipment operators. Most of this job growth will be a result of the higher population which demands more businesses, schools, homes, etc. More workers will be in demand to build roads, bridges, and highways. The area of building bridges is predicted to have the most opportunities as they have to be maintained often to keep them sound. Also, equipment operators will be needed to maintain and repair roads. Many bills have been passed in Congress recently that call for better public works and that devote large sums of money to construction projects. Many cities are installing or expanding mass transit systems. In addition to workers being needed to fill in the new jobs created by these factors, workers will also be needed to fill holes left by retirees or people who transfer to other areas.

All professions in the construction industry are susceptible to changes in the economy. Economic downturns or recessions decrease the amount of construction that occurs and so employment may not be stable.

Historical Earnings Information

Income for equipment operators varies due to level of experience, type of equipment, and type of employer. The majority earned between $13.00/h and $23.00/h in 2002 with a median of $17.00/h. The highest tenth of the pay scale earned over $29/h and the lowest tenth earned under $10.60/h.