Construction Equipment Operation


Quick Facts: Construction Equipment Operators
2017 Median Pay $46,080 per year 
$22.15 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Moderate-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2016 426,600
Job Outlook, 2016-26 12% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 52,700

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Construction Equipment Operators Career, Salary and Education Information

What Construction Equipment Operators Do

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

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construction equipment operators

Duties of construction equipment operators

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.


Work Environment for Construction Equipment Operators

Construction equipment operators held about 426,600 jobs in 2016. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up construction equipment operators was distributed as follows:

Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators: 371,100

Paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators: 51,900

Pile-driver operators: 3,700

 

The largest employers of construction equipment operators were as follows:

Heavy and civil engineering construction: 29%

Specialty trade contractors: 28%

Local government, excluding education and hospitals: 14%

Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction: 6%

Construction of buildings: 5%

 

Construction equipment operators work in nearly every weather condition, although rain or extremely cold weather can stop some types of construction. Workers often get dirty, greasy, muddy, or dusty. Some operators work in remote locations on large construction projects, such as highways and dams, or in factories or mines.

Work Schedules

Construction equipment operators may have irregular schedules because work on construction projects must sometimes continue around the clock or be done late at night. The majority of construction equipment operators work full time.


How to Become a Construction Equipment Operators

Many workers learn equipment operation on the job after earning a high school diploma or equivalent, while others learn through an apprenticeship or by attending vocational schools.

Education 

A high school diploma or equivalent is required for most jobs. Vocational training and math courses are useful, and a course in auto mechanics can be helpful because workers often perform maintenance on their equipment.

Learning at vocational schools may be beneficial in finding a job. Schools may specialize in a particular brand or type of construction equipment.Some schools incorporate sophisticated simulator training into their courses, allowing beginners to familiarize themselves with the equipment in a virtual environment before operating real machines.

training

Many carpenters need a driver’s license or reliable transportation, since their work is done on job sites. Carpenters do not need certification for the job. However, there are certificate programs that teach basics for carpenters interested in completing an apprenticeship, such as the Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate Training (PACT) offered by the Home Builders Institute. Other programs offer certifications by specialty. 

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations 

Construction equipment operators often need a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to haul their equipment to various jobsites. State laws governing CDLs vary. A few states have special licenses for operators of backhoes, loaders, and bulldozers.

Currently, 17 states require pile-driver operators to have a crane license because similar operational concerns apply to both pile-drivers and cranes. In addition, the cities of Chicago, Cincinnati, New Orleans, New York, Omaha, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC require special crane licensure.

Important Qualities

Hand-eye-foot coordination. Construction equipment operators should have steady hands and feet to guide and control heavy machinery precisely, sometimes in tight spaces.

Mechanical skills. Construction equipment operators often perform basic maintenance on the equipment they operate. As a result, they should be familiar with hand and power tools and standard equipment care.

Physical strength. Construction equipment operators may be required to lift more than 50 pounds as part of their duties.

Unafraid of heights. Construction equipment operators may work at great heights. For example, pile-driver operators may need to service the pulleys located at the top of the pile-driver’s tower, which may be several stories tall.


salaries for Construction Equipment Operators 

The median annual wage for construction equipment operators was $46,080 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,710, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $81,640.

 

Median annual wages for construction equipment operators in May 2017 were as follows:

Pile-driver operators: $57,650

Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators: $47,040

Paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators: $39,120

In May 2017, the median annual wages for construction equipment operators in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Construction of buildings: $53,180

Heavy and civil engineering construction: $49,440

Specialty trade contractors: $45,530

Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction: $45,380

Local government, excluding education and hospitals: $41,370

The starting pay for apprentices is usually between 60 percent and 70 percent of what fully trained operators make. They receive pay increases as they learn to operate more complex equipment.

Construction equipment operators may have irregular schedules because work on construction projects must sometimes continue around the clock or be done late at night. The majority of construction equipment operators work full time.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, construction equipment operators had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2016. Although no single union covers all operators, the largest organizer of these workers is the International Union of Operating Engineers.


Job Outlook for Construction Equipment Operators

Overall employment of construction equipment operators is projected to grow 12 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth is expected to vary across the construction equipment operator occupations. (See table below.)

Spending on infrastructure is expected to increase, resulting in many new positions over the next 10 years. Across the country, many roads, bridges, and water and sewer systems are in need of repair. In addition, population growth will require new infrastructure projects, such as roads and sewer lines, which are also expected to generate jobs.

Job Prospects for construction equipment operators

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.

As with many other types of construction worker jobs, employment of construction equipment operators is sensitive to fluctuations of the economy. On the one hand, workers may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. On the other hand, some areas may need additional workers during peak periods of building activity.

Employment projections data for Construction Equipment Operators, 2016-26

Employment, 2016: 426,600

Projected Employment, 2026: 479,300

Change, 2016-2026: +12%, +52,700


Careers Related to construction equipment operators

Agricultural Workers

Agricultural workers maintain crops and tend to livestock. They perform physical labor and operate machinery under the supervision of farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers.

Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers operate establishments that produce crops, livestock, and dairy products.

Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers transport goods from one location to another. Most tractor-trailer drivers are long-haul drivers and operate trucks with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) capacity—that is, the combined weight of the vehicle, passengers, and cargo—exceeding 26,000 pounds. These drivers deliver goods over intercity routes, sometimes spanning several states.

Material Moving Machine Operators

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.

OccupationENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION2017 MEDIAN PAY
Material Moving Machine Operators$34,830
Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck DriversPostsecondary nondegree award$42,480
Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural ManagersHigh school diploma or equivalent$69,620
Agricultural Workers$23,730

Citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Construction Equipment Operators,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/construction-equipment-operators.htm