Construction Equipment Operators

Summary

construction equipment operators image
Construction equipment operators may use bulldozers to level and prepare sites.
Quick Facts: Construction Equipment Operators
2012 Median Pay $40,980 per year
$19.70 per hour
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, 2012 409,700
Job Outlook, 2012-22 19% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 78,200

What Construction Equipment Operators Do

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

Work Environment

Construction equipment operators work in nearly every weather condition. Workers often get dirty, greasy, muddy, or dusty. Most work full time, and some operators may have irregular hours. Some construction projects, especially road building, are done at night.

How to Become a Construction Equipment Operator

Many workers learn equipment operation on the job, while others learn through an apprenticeship or by attending private trade schools.

Pay

The median annual wage for construction equipment operators was $40,980 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of construction equipment operators is projected to grow 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. Spending on infrastructure should generate many new jobs for construction equipment operators. Workers who can operate multiple types of equipment should have the best job opportunities.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of construction equipment operators with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about construction equipment operators by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Construction Equipment Operators Do About this section

Construction equipment operators
Pile drivers commonly drive piles for a variety of purposes.

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

Duties

Construction equipment operators typically do the following:

  • Check to make sure that equipment functions properly
  • Clean, maintain, and make basic repairs to equipment
  • Report malfunctioning equipment to supervisors
  • Move levers, push pedals, or turn valves to activate power equipment
  • Drive and maneuver equipment
  • Coordinate machine actions with crew members in response to hand or audio signals
  • Ensure that safety standards are met

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 construction of roads, bridges, and buildings, as well as airport 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. Paving and surfacing equipment operators may specialize further:

  • Asphalt spreader operators turn valves to regulate the temperature of asphalt and the flow of asphalt onto 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 into which workers must add concrete.
  • Tamping equipment operators use machines that compact earth and other fill materials for roadbeds 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.

Some workers, including material moving machine operators, use cranes to move construction materials.

Work Environment About this section

Construction equipment operators
Many types of heavy machinery are used in road paving.

Construction equipment operators held about 409,700 jobs in 2012. About 3 percent were self-employed. The employment levels of construction equipment operators were as follows:

Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators351,200
Paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators54,700
Pile-driver operators3,800

Construction equipment operators work in nearly every weather condition. 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.

Injuries and Illnesses

Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. Accidents generally can be avoided by observing proper operating procedures and safety practices, but some repetitive stress injuries do occur. In addition, bulldozers, scrapers, and especially pile-drivers, are noisy and shake or jolt the operator.

Work Schedule

Construction equipment operators may have irregular hours because work on some construction projects continues around the clock or must be done late at night. Extremely cold weather or rain can stop some types of construction. Nearly all operators work full time.

How to Become a Construction Equipment Operator About this section

Construction equipment operators
Hand-eye-foot coordination is needed to operate construction equipment.

Many workers learn equipment operation on the job, while others learn through an apprenticeship or by attending private trade schools.

Education

A high school diploma or equivalent is required for most jobs. High school courses in English, math, and shop are useful. A course in auto mechanics can also be helpful because workers often perform maintenance on their machines. 

Private vocational schools offer programs in certain types of construction equipment operation. Finishing one of these programs may help someone get a job. However, people considering this kind of training should check the school’s reputation among employers in the area and find out if the school offers the opportunity to train on actual machines in realistic situations.

A lot of information can be learned through instruction; to become a skilled construction equipment operator, however, a worker needs to be able to physically perform the various tasks. Many training facilities incorporate sophisticated simulators into their training, allowing beginners to familiarize themselves with the equipment in a controlled environment.

Training

Many workers learn their jobs by operating light equipment under the guidance of an experienced operator. Later, they may operate heavier equipment, such as bulldozers. Technologically advanced construction equipment with computerized controls and improved hydraulics and electronics requires greater skill to operate. Operators of such equipment may need more training and some understanding of electronics.

Other workers 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 special technology, such as a global positioning system (GPS). In the classroom, apprentices are taught map reading, operating procedures for special equipment, safety practices, and first aid. Because apprentices learn to operate a wider variety of machines than do other beginners, they usually have better job opportunities.

After completing an apprenticeship program, apprentices are considered journey workers, doing tasks with less guidance.

A few groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. The basic qualifications for entering an apprenticeship program are as follows:

  • Minimum age of 18
  • High school education or equivalent
  • Physically able to do the work
  • Valid driver’s license

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Construction equipment operators often need a commercial driver’s license to haul their equipment to various jobsites. State laws about commercial driver’s licenses vary.

A few states have special operator’s licenses for operators of backhoes, loaders, and bulldozers.

Currently, 18 states require pile-driver operators to have a crane license because these states classify pile-drivers as cranes. In addition, the cities of Chicago, New Orleans, New York, Omaha, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC require special crane licensure.

Some construction equipment operators choose to teach in training facilities. Other operators start their own contracting business, although doing so may be difficult because of high equipment startup costs.

Important Qualities

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

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

Unafraid of heights. A few equipment operators must work at great heights. For example, pile-driver operators may need to service the pulleys that are located on the roof of a building.

Pay About this section

Construction Equipment Operators

Median annual wages, May 2012

Pile-driver operators

$48,480

Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators

$41,870

Construction trades workers

$38,970

Paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators

$35,840

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for construction equipment operators was $40,980 in May 2012. 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 $26,470, and the top 10 percent earned more than $72,440.

The median wages for construction equipment operators in May 2012 were as follows:

  • $48,480 for pile-driver operators
  • $41,870 for operating engineers and other construction equipment operators
  • $35,840 for paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators

Operators may have irregular hours because work on some construction projects continues around the clock or must be done late at night. Extremely cold weather and rain may stop construction work. Nearly all construction equipment operators work full time.

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 become more skilled.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, construction equipment operators had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2012. Although no single union covers all operators, the largest organizer of these workers is the International Union of Operating Engineers.

Job Outlook About this section

Construction Equipment Operators

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Pile-driver operators

28%

Construction trades workers

22%

Paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators

20%

Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators

19%

Total, all occupations

11%

 

Employment of construction equipment operators is projected to grow 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations.

The likelihood of increased spending on infrastructure to improve roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, and the electric power grid, many of which are in great need of repair across the country, is expected to result in numerous jobs. In addition, population growth increases the need for construction projects such as new roads and sewer lines, which are also expected to generate some jobs. However, without the extra spending on infrastructure by the federal government, employment growth may be tempered as states and localities struggle with budget shortfalls to pay for road and other improvements.

Job Prospects

Workers with the ability to operate multiple types of equipment should have the best 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, shortages of workers may occur in some areas during peak periods of building activity.

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.

In addition, the need to replace workers who leave the occupation should result in some job opportunities.

Employment projections data for construction equipment operators, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Construction equipment operators

409,700 487,900 19 78,200

Paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators

47-2071 54,700 65,500 20 10,800 [XLS]

Pile-driver operators

47-2072 3,800 4,800 28 1,000 [XLS]

Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators

47-2073 351,200 417,600 19 66,400 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of construction equipment operators.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Material moving machine operators

Material Moving Machine Operators

Material moving machine operators use machinery to transport various objects. Some operators move construction materials around building sites or the land around a mine. Others move goods around a warehouse or onto container ships.

See How to Become One $31,530
Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers

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 whose gross vehicle weight (GVW) capacity—that is, the combined weight of the vehicle, passengers, and cargo—exceeds 26,000 pounds. These drivers deliver goods over intercity routes, sometimes spanning several states.

Postsecondary non-degree award $38,200
Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers

Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers

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

High school diploma or equivalent $69,300

Contacts for More Information About this section

For information about apprenticeships or job opportunities as a construction equipment operator, contact local cement or highway construction contractors, a local joint union-management apprenticeship committee, or the nearest office of your state employment service or apprenticeship agency. Information on apprenticeships is available from the U.S. Department of Labor's toll-free help line, 1 (877) 872-5627, or the Employment and Training Administration.

For more information on construction equipment operators, visit

Associated General Contractors of America

Pile Driving Contractors Association

For information on training of construction equipment operators, visit

International Union of Operating Engineers

NCCER

For information about crane certification and licensure, visit

National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators

O*NET

Paving, Surfacing, and Tamping Equipment Operators

Pile-Driver Operators

Operating Engineers and Other Construction Equipment Operators

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Construction Equipment Operators,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/construction-equipment-operators.htm (visited August 29, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014