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Equipment Operator Career Guide

Equipment operators are specialists who are trained to successfully operate a particular type of equipment or machinery. Due to the growing population, the overall employment growth of equipment operators is expected to increase, offering many job opportunities. Equipment operators can either learn their skills through attending college and then receiving on the job training. Or, they can complete an apprenticeship program which gives them all the skills and knowledge they need.

If you were that kid that loved to play in the dirt and mud, a career as a heavy equipment operator could be your dream job. Not only is this job currently in high demand, but it can also provide great pay. According to many operators, it is the best job they have ever had.

Jacob Brass

Equipment Operator Career Ratings

Income

Career
Growth

Personal Growth

Contribution

Influence

Job Profiles

Real-Life Equipment Operator Job Profiles

Below is a list of links to anonymous job profiles of REAL PEOPLE who have filled out our survey and offered to share their insights with our users about their job in the Equipment Operator field.
ID Job Title Gender Age Earnings City & State Date
33598 Equipment Engineering Technician Male 30 $80,000 Allen, TX 01/01/2010
33515 Heavy Equipment Operator Male 26 $60,000 Yorktown, VA 01/01/2010
33466 Maintenance Engineer Female 33 $56,000 fort smith, NY 01/01/2010
33453 Operator Male 55 $48,000 Columbus, NY 01/01/2010
33454 Tow Truck Operator Female 30 $49,000 Hyannis, NY 01/01/2010

Overview

What an equipment operator actually does

Equipment operators are specialists who are trained to successfully operate a particular type of complex equipment or machinery. Most equipment operators are trained in one of three different categories of equipment: commercial motor vehicle operation, crane operation, or heavy equipment operation. Equipment operators may work for construction companies or in the manufacturing field. Regardless of where they work, their typical duties and responsibilities include:

  • Operating equipment (either for motor vehicles operation, crane operation or heavy equipment operations) in compliance with the company’s operating safety policies and procedures.
  • Loading and unloading the equipment from vehicles and trailers when necessary
  • Ensure that the equipment is maintained, kept clean, and stored in a safe manner
  • Collecting and disposing of  any scrap, excess materials, and refuse
  • Observe distribution of paving material to adjust machine settings or material flow
  • Completing any required paperwork, reporting, and other documentation

Why they are needed

Equipment operators play a fundamental role in the creation of the many things we need. Without equipment operators to control cranes, we would not have buildings. Without equipment operators in the motor vehicle industry, we would not have cars or lorries. And, without heavy equipment operators, we would not have safe roads, bridges or pavements. Equipment operators have the unique training and skills that allow them to operate complicated equipment, which contributes greatly to the growth and development of society.

Pros and cons of a career as an equipment operator:

Pros:

  • As society is growing, the demand for new buildings, structures and cars is increasing. Therefore, there is a growing demand for equipment operators
  • It is a relatively easy career to get into. And, once in, there are good advancement opportunities
  • It is a practical and hands on job, which makes it an interesting and exciting career
  • Although equipment operators work outside, unlike many other practical careers, they can work in temperature controlled machine cabins

Cons:

  • Equipment operators may work long and irregular work hours, and they may have to work evenings and weekends
  • It requires a lot of patience, as it takes time and things can go wrong
  • Due to working with industrial machinery and on construction sites, there is a risk of being injured
  • Some tasks an equipment operator does might be boring and tedious to some

Employability

Job market

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall employment of equipment operators is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

This employment growth is expected as spending on infrastructure is expected to increase. Many roads, bridges, and water and sewer systems will be in need of repair. And, the growing population will require new infrastructure projects, such as roads and sewer lines. All of these factors are expected to create more jobs for equipment operators.

Job prospects will be best for equipment operators who have the ability to operate multiple types of equipment. Finally, as with many other types of construction jobs, employment of equipment operators is sensitive to fluctuations of the economy.

Career paths

To become an equipment operator, you will need to earn a high school diploma or equivalent. Vocational training and math courses are useful, and a course in auto mechanics can be helpful because workers often perform maintenance on their equipment. Some vocational schools may specialize in a particular brand or type of construction equipment, which is beneficial to finding a job. What is more, is that vocational schools may incorporate sophisticated simulator training into their courses. This allows beginners to familiarize themselves with the equipment in a virtual environment, before operating real machines.

Equipment operators may also choose the apprenticeship career path. This takes 3 or 4 years. For each year of the program, apprentices must have at least 144 hours of technical instruction and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. On the job, apprentices learn to maintain equipment, operate machinery, and use technology, such as Global Positioning System (GPS) devices. In the classroom, apprentices learn operating procedures for equipment, safety practices, and first aid, as well as how to read grading plans. After completing an apprenticeship program, apprentices are considered journey workers and perform tasks with less guidance.

Some construction equipment with computerized controls requires greater skill to operate. Operators of such equipment may need more training and some understanding of electronics.

To become an equipment operator, you will need a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to haul their equipment to various jobsites.  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.

Example Job Titles for Equipment Operator

Below is a list of common job titles in the Equipment Operator field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for construction equipment operators was $48,160 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $31,780, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $84,650.

The top paying industry was construction of buildings, where the median annual salary was $54,180. This was followed by heavy and civil engineering construction, where the median annual salary was $52,280, then specialty trade contractors ($48,070), mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction ($46,950) and finally local governments ($43,080).

Autonomy and Flexibility

The level of autonomy and flexibility for an equipment operator will vary depending on the amount of experience they have. For instance, an equipment operator who has just began their apprenticeship will have less autonomy and flexibility than those who have 10 years experience and additional training. Many commercial motor vehicle operators are owner/operators, which makes it possible to work as an independent contractor. This will give them more autonomy and flexibility.

Locations and commute

Employment opportunities for equipment operators in the United States are likely to be best in metropolitan areas, where most large commercial and residential buildings are constructed, and in states that undertake large transportation-related projects. According to Zippia, the best states to be an equipment operator, based on average annual salary and number of jobs available, are:

  1. Texas, where the average annual salary is $46,850
  2. North Dakota, where the average annual salary is $43,685
  3. Utah, where the average annual salary is $45,712
  4. Wyoming, where the average annual salary is $41,468
  5. Alaska, where the average annual salary is $47,518

The worst states to be an equipment operator, according to Zippia, are Florida, Virginia, Missouri, Illinois and Nebraska.

Work environment

The largest employer of equipment operators in the United States was heavy and civil engineering construction, which employs 30% equipment operators. Specialty trade contractors employ 28%, local governments employ 13%, mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction employ 6% and construction of buildings employ 5%.

Equipment operators will work in nearly every weather condition, although extreme rain or cold may stop some types of construction work. It is a dirty, muddy and dusty jobs and many equipment operators risk injury from hazards (e.g., slips, falls or transportation incidents).

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Equipment Operator careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Equipment Operator career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Equipment Operator.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

  • None

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None

DiSC

  • None

Enneagram

  • None

Holland Codes (RIASEC)

  • None

Personality types

There has been no scientific exploration into exactly what personality types will make a successful equipment operator. However, the Myers Briggs personality type of ISTP, or otherwise known as ‘the craftsperson’, is likely to be a successful equipment operator. As the name suggests, these types of people enjoy building. They are able to tackle problems in their immediate environment, with an innate mechanical ability. ISTPs are typically very attentive to detail, independent, adaptable and self-directed, which are key skills for precisely and accurately operating equipment.

Accomplishment and mastery

As equipment operators can learn advanced skills relatively quickly, there is high skill accomplishment and mastery. Equipment operators can also choose to further their skills and knowledge by specializing, which further increases their accomplishment and mastery.

Meaning and contribution

The work of equipment operators is essential for the building and maintenance of many things that society needs to grow and run effectively. Therefore, the work of an equipment operator has high meaning and contribution to society.

Life fit

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

Who will thrive in this career?

One of the most important things an equipment operator can be is physically fit. This is because an equipment operator will need to be able to lift heavy parts of machinery and equipment. You will also thrive if you like practical, hands on work and don’t mind working outside in adverse weather conditions. Those who can work well as part of a team and communicate well with others are likely to thrive as equipment operator, as they will need to communicate with other construction workers.

Who will struggle in this career?

Similarly to what is mentioned above, you are are likely to struggle with working as an equipment operator if you are physically unfit and cannot stand cold weather conditions.  Similarly, if you are afraid of heights then you may struggle as an equipment operator, as you will potentially have to work in cranes or at heights. Finally, if you prefer to work alone or do less practical work, then you may struggle as an equipment operator due to the hands-on nature of the work.

Requirements

Skills and talents

Equipment operators are taught all the tricks of the trade through their on-the-job and technical training. However, they will also need skills such as:

  • Hand-eye-foot coordination, because they will need to guide and control machines into sometimes tight spaces
  • Mechanical skills, as equipment operators must perform maintenance on their equipment and they must be familiar with the use and care of other construction equipment
  • Physical stamina, as equipment operators may have to lift heavy machinery, climb ladders and/or bend down for ages
  • Unafraid of heights, as equipment operators may work at great heights (e.g., in a crane)

Education

Equipment operators will need to earn a high school diploma or equivalent. Vocational training and math courses are useful, and a course in auto mechanics can be helpful because workers often perform maintenance on their equipment. Some vocational schools may specialize in a particular brand or type of construction equipment, which is beneficial to finding a job. What is more, is that vocational schools may incorporate sophisticated simulator training into their courses. This allows beginners to familiarize themselves with the equipment in a virtual environment, before operating real machines.

Many equipment operators learn the skills they need on the job by operating equipment under the guidance of an experienced operator. Normally, equipment operators begin by operating light equipment and later they will  operate heavier equipment, such as bulldozers.

Equipment operators may also learn their trade through a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship. For each year of the program, apprentices must have at least 144 hours of technical instruction and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. On the job, apprentices learn to maintain equipment, operate machinery, and use technology, such as Global Positioning System (GPS) devices. In the classroom, apprentices learn operating procedures for equipment, safety practices, and first aid, as well as how to read grading plans. After completing an apprenticeship program, apprentices are considered journey workers and perform tasks with less guidance.

Certifications

To become an equipment operator, you will need a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to haul their equipment to various jobsites.  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.

How to Become

Summary

Equipment operators are specialists who are trained to successfully operate a particular type of equipment or machinery. The overall employment growth of equipment operators is expected to increase, and there will be plenty of job opportunities due to the growing population.

Immediate action

If becoming an equipment operator appeals to you, then we recommend starting to look for some labor work on construction sites to gather some experience. After this, we recommend that you start to look at what college courses you want to take, or whether there are any apprenticeship programs about.

Education and learning

Equipment operators can either learn their skills through attending college and then receiving on the job training. Or, they can complete an apprenticeship program which gives them all the skills and knowledge they need.

Skill development

Equipment operators will learn the skills in their training. They can continue to develop their skills by attending further training and becoming a specialist.

FAQs

Ask a Question

Have a question about Equipment Operator careers? If so, our mentors would love to help! Just click on a mentor’s profile below and then fill out the “Ask a Question” form on that page. Your question will then be emailed to the mentor, who can then email you a reply.

ID Job Title Gender Age Earnings City & State Date
33598 Equipment Engineering Technician Male 30 $80,000 Allen, TX 01/01/2010
33515 Heavy Equipment Operator Male 26 $60,000 Yorktown, VA 01/01/2010
33466 Maintenance Engineer Female 33 $56,000 fort smith, NY 01/01/2010
33453 Operator Male 55 $48,000 Columbus, NY 01/01/2010
33454 Tow Truck Operator Female 30 $49,000 Hyannis, NY 01/01/2010

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