Material Moving Machine Operators


Quick Facts: Material Moving Machine Operators
2017 Median Pay $34,830 per year 
$16.75 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education  
Work Experience in a Related Occupation  
On-the-job Training  
Number of Jobs, 2016 682,000
Job Outlook, 2016-26 6% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 43,700

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Material Moving Machine Operators Career, Salary and Education Information

What Material Moving Machine Operators Do

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.

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Material Moving Machine Operators

Duties of material moving machine operators

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.


Work Environment for Material Moving Machine Operators

Material moving machine operators held about 682,000 jobs in 2016. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up material moving machine operators was distributed as follows:

Industrial truck and tractor operators: 549,900

Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators: 50,600

Crane and tower operators: 46,000

Conveyor operators and tenders: 28,100

Hoist and winch operators: 2,900

Loading machine operators, underground mining: 2,600

Dredge operators: 1,800

The largest employers of material moving machine operators were as follows:

Warehousing and storage: 19%

Wholesale trade: 15%

Temporary help services: 9%

Construction: 7%

Food manufacturing: 6%

Material moving machine operators work indoors and outdoors in a variety of industries.

Injuries and Illnesses

Some material moving machine operator jobs can be dangerous. For example, crane operators work outdoors at great heights in all types of weather.

Crane and tower operators, industrial truck and tractor operators, and excavating and loading machine and dragline operators all have higher rates of injuries and illnesses than the national average.

Many workers wear personal protective equipment, including gloves, hardhats, harnesses, and respirators to guard against injury.

Work Schedules

Most material moving machine operators work full time, and overtime for them is common. Because materials are shipped around the clock, some operators—especially those in warehousing—work overnight shifts.


How to Become a Material Moving Machine Operator

Education and training requirements vary by occupation. Crane operators and excavating machine operators usually have several years of experience in related occupations, such as construction equipment operators or hoist or winch operators.

Education

Although no formal educational credential is usually required, some companies prefer to hire material moving machine operators who have a high school diploma. For crane and tower operators, excavating machine operators, and dredge operators, however, a high school diploma or equivalent typically is required.

Training

Although most material moving machine operators are trained on the job in less than a month, the amount of time spent in training will vary with the type of machine. Some machines, such as cranes and towers, are more complex than others, such as industrial trucks and forklifts. Learning to operate a forklift or an industrial truck in warehouses, for example, may take only a few days; training to operate a crane for port operations may take several months. Most workers are trained by a supervisor or another experienced employee.

During their training, material moving machine operators learn a number of safety rules, many of which are standardized through the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Employers must certify that each operator has received the proper training. Operators who work with hazardous materials receive further specialized training.

The International Union of Operating Engineers offers apprenticeship programs for heavy-equipment operators, such as excavating machine operators or crane operators. Apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job training with technical instruction.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

A number of states and several cities require crane operators to be licensed. To get a license, operators typically must complete a skills test in which they show that they can control a crane. They also must pass a written exam that tests their knowledge of safety rules and procedures. Some crane operators and industrial truck and tractor operators may obtain certification, which includes passing a written exam.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Crane operators and excavating machine operators usually have several years of experience working as construction equipment operators, hoist and winch operators, or riggers and signalers.

Important Qualities

Alertness. Material moving machine operators must be aware of their surroundings while operating machinery.

Communication skills. Material moving machine operators signal and direct workers to load and unload material. They also receive direction from workers on the ground when moving material.

Coordination. Material moving machine operators should have steady hands and feet to guide and control heavy machinery precisely. They use hand controls to maneuver their machines through tight spaces, around large objects, and on uneven surfaces.

Mechanical skills. Material moving machine operators make minor adjustments to their machines and perform basic maintenance on them.

Visual ability. Material moving machine operators must be able to see clearly where they are driving or what they are moving. They must also watch for nearby workers, who may unknowingly be in their path.


salaries for Material Moving Machine Operators

The median annual wage for material moving machine operators was $34,830 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 $24,130, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $54,840.

Median annual wages for material moving machine operators in May 2017 were as follows:

Loading machine operators, underground mining: $52,420

Crane and tower operators: $52,200

Dredge operators: $43,230

Hoist and winch operators: $43,210

Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators: $42,500

Industrial truck and tractor operators: $33,630

Conveyor operators and tenders: $32,300

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

Construction: $47,420

Food manufacturing: $34,380

Warehousing and storage: $34,170

Wholesale trade: $33,320

Temporary help services: $29,490

Most material moving machine operators work full time, and overtime for them is common. Because materials are shipped around the clock, some operators—especially those in warehousing—work overnight shifts.


Job Outlook for Material Moving Machine Operators

Overall employment of material moving machine operators is projected to grow 6 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Employment of industrial truck and tractor operators is projected to grow 7 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment of this occupation is concentrated in warehouse environments. The demand for warehousing will continue to grow as more consumers choose to purchase products online. However, employment growth may be tempered for industrial truck and tractor operators as more warehouses begin using automated machinery to improve their operations. This equipment increases the efficiency of operators, allowing warehouses to employ fewer of them.

Employment of excavating and loading machine and dragline operators is projected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Many of these operators work in the construction industry, where projected growth will drive job growth in this occupation.

Employment of crane and tower operators is projected to grow 9 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. As global shipping increases, more of these operators will be needed at ports to load and unload large cargo ships. However, increasing automation at ports may moderate growth. Employment of crane and tower operators also will be driven by growth in the construction industry, which employs about 2 in 5 of these workers. Employment of crane and tower operators is projected to grow 14 percent in construction.

Employment of conveyor operators and tenders is projected to show little or no change from 2016 to 2026. Employment growth will be limited as more warehouses use equipment such as high-speed conveyors, high-speed sorting systems, and robotic pickers. This equipment increases the efficiency of operators and tenders, allowing warehouses to employ fewer of them.

Employment of hoist and winch operators is projected to show little or no change from 2016 to 2026. Like crane and tower operators, they will be needed at ports to help load and unload cargo, but employment growth for this occupation may be limited by port automation.

Employment of underground mining loading machine operators is projected to decline 4 percent from 2016 to 2026, largely because of an expected employment decline in coal mining, an industry in which many of these workers are employed.

Employment of dredge operators is projected to grow 5 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. In order to improve traffic on waterways and promote their recreational use, dredging of various water areas, including canals, lakes, rivers, and harbors, will be necessary. Demand for dredging of various water areas will drive employment growth of these workers.

Job Prospects

Job prospects are expected to be favorable. Many job openings should be created by the need to replace workers who leave these occupations.

Employment projections data for Material Moving Machine Operators, 2016-26

Employment, 2016: 682,000

Projected Employment, 2026: 725,700

Change, 2016-2026: +6%, +43,700

 

Careers Related to Material Moving Machine OperatorS

Construction Equipment Operators

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

Construction Laborers and Helpers

Construction laborers and helpers perform many tasks that require physical labor on construction sites.

Delivery Truck Drivers and Driver/Sales Workers

Delivery truck drivers and driver/sales workers pick up, transport, and drop off packages and small shipments within a local region or urban area. They drive trucks with a gross vehicle weight (GVW)—the combined weight of the vehicle, passengers, and cargo—of 26,000 pounds or less. Most of the time, delivery truck drivers transport merchandise from a distribution center to businesses and households.

Hand Laborers and Material Movers

Hand laborers and material movers manually move freight, stock, or other materials. Some of these workers may feed or remove material to and from machines, clean vehicles, pick up unwanted household goods, and pack materials for moving.

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.

Railroad Workers

Workers in railroad occupations ensure that passenger and freight trains run on time and travel safely. Some workers drive trains, some coordinate the activities of the trains, and others operate signals and switches in the rail yard.

Water Transportation Workers

Water transportation workers operate and maintain vessels that take cargo and people over water. The vessels travel to and from foreign ports across the ocean and to domestic ports along the coasts, across the Great Lakes, and along the country’s many inland waterways.

OccupationENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION2017 MEDIAN PAY
Construction Equipment OperatorsHigh school diploma or equivalent$46,080
Construction Laborers and Helpers$33,450
Delivery Truck Drivers and Driver/Sales WorkersHigh school diploma or equivalent$29,250
Hand Laborers and Material MoversNo formal educational credential$25,870
Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck DriversPostsecondary nondegree award$42,480
Railroad WorkersHigh school diploma or equivalent$59,780
Water Transportation Workers$55,590

Citation:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Material Moving Machine Operators, 
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/transportation-and-material-moving/material-moving-machine-operators.htm