Material Moving Machine Operators

Summary

material moving machine operators image
Many conveyor operators and tenders work in warehouses.
Quick Facts: Material Moving Machine Operators
2012 Median Pay $31,530 per year
$15.16 per hour
Entry-Level Education See How to Become One
Work Experience in a Related Occupation See How to Become One
On-the-job Training See How to Become One
Number of Jobs, 2012 650,600
Job Outlook, 2012-22 1% (Little or no change)
Employment Change, 2012-22 3,600

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 the land around a mine. Others move goods around a warehouse or onto container ships.

Work Environment

Most material moving machine operators work full time and have 8-hour shifts, although longer shifts and overtime are 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 the type of job. Crane operators and excavating machine operators usually have several years of experience in related occupations.

Pay

The median annual wage for material moving machine operators was $31,530 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of material moving machine operators is projected to show little or no change from 2012 to 2022. Job openings should result from the need to replace workers who leave these occupations.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of material moving machine operators with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

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

What Material Moving Machine Operators Do

Material moving machine operators
Crane and tower operators are commonly employed in construction and water transportation.

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.

Duties

Material moving machine operators typically do the following:

  • Control equipment with levers, wheels, or foot pedals
  • Move material according to a plan or schedule they receive from their superiors
  • Set up and inspect material moving equipment
  • Make minor repairs to their equipment
  • Record the material they have moved and where they moved it from and to

In warehouse environments, most material moving machine operators use forklifts and conveyor belts. Automated sensors and tags are increasingly used to keep track of merchandise, allowing operators to work faster. Some operators also check items for damage.

In warehouses, operators usually work closely with hand material movers. For more information, see the profile on 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 the ore and other mined materials.

In construction, material movers remove earth to clear space for buildings. Some work on a building site for the entire length of the construction project. For example, material moving machine operators often help to construct high-rise buildings by transporting materials to workers far above ground level.

All material moving machine operators are responsible for the safe operation of their equipment or vehicle.

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 makes 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.

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 also may move material within a confined area, such as a construction site. Operators typically receive instructions from workers on the ground through hand signals or radios. Most of these operators work in construction or mining industries.

Dredge operators excavate waterways. They operate equipment on the water to remove sand, gravel, or rock from harbors or lakes to help prevent erosion and improve trade. Removing these materials helps maintain navigable waterways and allows larger ships to use more ports. Operators also measure the water depth, as well as how much they will be excavating. Dredging is also used to help restore wetlands and maintain beaches.

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. These workers generally work underground in mines. 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 further into the mine in order to gather more material.

Crane and tower operators use tower and cable equipment to lift and move materials, machinery, or other heavy objects. Operators extend and retract horizontal arms and lower and raise hooks attached to cables at the end of their crane or tower. Operators are usually guided by other workers on the ground using hand signals or a radio. Most crane and tower operators work at construction sites or major ports, where they load and unload cargo. Some also work in iron and steel mills. 

Hoist and winch operators, also called derrick operators or hydraulic boom operators, control the movement of platforms, cables, and cages that transport workers or materials for industrial operations, such as constructing a high-rise building. Many of these operators raise platforms far above the ground. Operators regulate the speed of the equipment based on the needs of the workers. Most work in manufacturing or construction industries.

Conveyor operators and tenders control conveyor systems that move materials on an automatic belt. They move materials to and from places such as building sites, storage areas, and vehicles. They monitor sensors on the conveyor to regulate the speed with which the conveyor belt moves. Operators may determine the route materials take along a conveyor based on shipping orders.

Work Environment

Material moving machine operators
Forklift drivers typically work in warehousing and storage facilities.

Material moving machine operators held about 650,600 jobs in 2012. They worked in a variety of industries. The tables that follow show the distribution of the different kinds of material moving machine operators.

Industrial truck and tractor operators held about 508,600 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most industrial truck and tractor operators in 2012 were as follows:

Warehousing and storage15%
Employment services8
Merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods8

Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators held about 50,700 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most excavating and loading machine and dragline operators in 2012 were as follows:

Mining (except oil and gas)24%
Specialty trade contractors22
Heavy and civil engineering construction13

Crane and tower operators held about 43,800 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most crane and tower operators in 2012 were as follows:

Specialty trade contractors23%
Primary metal manufacturing15
Support activities for mining10
Heavy and civil engineering construction8
Support activities for transportation8

Conveyor operators and tenders held about 39,100 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most conveyor operators and tenders in 2012 were as follows:

Couriers and messengers22%
Merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods21
Food manufacturing13
Warehousing and storage8
Merchant wholesalers, durable goods8

Underground mining loading machine operators held about 3,300 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most underground mining loading machine operators in 2012 were as follows:

Coal mining62%
Metal ore mining13
Nonmetallic mineral mining and quarrying7

Hoist and winch operators held about 3,100 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most hoist and winch operators in 2012 were as follows:

Support activities for water transportation17%
State and local government, excluding education and hospitals9
Support activities for mining7

Dredge operators held about 2,000 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most dredge operators in 2012 were as follows:

Nonmetallic mineral mining and quarrying48%
Heavy and civil engineering construction29
State and local government, excluding education and hospitals5

Injuries and Illnesses

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

Operators in some industries might be exposed to harmful chemicals or dangerous machinery. However, these jobs have become far less dangerous as safety equipment and regulations have improved. Many workers wear gloves, hardhats, or respirators. 

Work Schedules

Most material moving machine operators work full time and have 8-hour shifts, although longer shifts and overtime are 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

Material moving machine operators
Most material moving machine operators are trained on the job in under one month.

Education and training requirements vary by the type of job. Crane operators and excavating machine operators usually have several years of experience in related occupations.

Education

Although it is usually not required, some companies prefer material moving machine operators to have a high school diploma.

Crane operators and excavating machine operators are normally required to have a high school diploma or equivalent.

Training

Most material moving machine operators are trained on the job in less than a month. Some machines are more complex than others, so the amount of time spent in training will vary with the type of machine the operator is using. Training time also can vary by industry. Most workers are trained by a supervisor or another experienced employee, who decides when the workers are ready to work on their own.

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.

During their training, machine operators learn a number of safety rules, many of which are standardized through the Occupational Safety and 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.

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 usually must pass a written exam that tests their knowledge of safety rules and procedures.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Crane operators and excavating machine operators usually have several years of experience in related occupations. They may start as construction laborers and helpers and work as construction equipment operators or hoist and winch operators. 

Advancement

Some material moving machine operators become construction equipment operators. Others find work as a production or mining worker. In warehousing or retail environments, experienced workers can move to other parts of the company, such as the sales department, or become a material recording clerk.

Important Qualities

Alertness. Machine operators must stay aware of their surroundings while operating machinery.

Dexterity. Operators sometimes have to maneuver their machines through tight spaces, around large objects, and on uneven surfaces.

Mechanical skills. Operators make minor adjustments to their machines when necessary.

Visual ability. When operating their machines, 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.

Pay

Material Moving Machine Operators

Median annual wages, May 2012

Total, all occupations

$34,750

Material moving machine operators

$31,530

Transportation and material moving occupations

$28,960

 

The median annual wage for material moving machine operators was $31,530 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 $20,800, and the top 10 percent earned more than $51,110.

The median wages for material moving machine operator occupations in May 2012 were the following:

  • $48,420 for underground mining loading machine operators
  • $47,290 for crane and tower operators
  • $39,960 for hoist and winch operators
  • $38,290 for excavating and loading machine and dragline operators
  • $37,170 for dredge operators
  • $30,220 for industrial truck and tractor operators
  • $29,610 for conveyor operators and tenders

Most material moving machine operators work full time and have 8-hour shifts, although longer shifts and overtime are common. Because materials are shipped around the clock, some operators—especially those in warehousing—work overnight shifts.                                

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, material moving machine operators had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2012.

Job Outlook

Material Moving Machine Operators

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations

11%

Transportation and material moving occupations

9%

Material moving machine operators

1%

 

Employment of material moving machine operators is projected to show little or no change from 2012 to 2022.

Employment of conveyor operators and tenders is projected to grow 3 percent and employment of industrial truck and tractor operators is projected to decline 3 percent. Both of these occupations are heavily concentrated in warehouse environments. The need for warehouses will grow as consumer spending increases.

However, employment growth will be limited as automation becomes more commonplace. Most warehouses are installing equipment such as high-speed conveyors, high-speed sorting systems, and robotic pickers. This equipment increases the efficiency of material movers, allowing warehouses to trim the number of workers they employ.

Employment of crane and tower operators is projected to grow 17 percent from 2012 to 2022. 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 growth also will be driven by the recovery of the construction industry, in which many of these workers are employed. Employment of crane operators is projected to grow 40 percent in construction.

Employment of hoist and winch operators is projected to grow 3 percent from 2012 to 2022. Like crane and tower operators, they will be needed at ports to help load and unload cargo, but may see growth reduced by port automation. Employment of hoist and winch operators is projected to decline 15 percent in support activities for water transportation. They are also heavily concentrated in declining manufacturing industries, which will contribute to slower growth.

Employment of excavating and loading machine and dragline operators is projected to grow 16 percent from 2012 to 2022. Many of these operators work in the construction industry, whose projected fast growth will drive job growth in this occupation.

Employment of dredge operators is projected to grow 13 percent from 2012 to 2022 as the need for more dredging in the Great Lakes and in other large ports increases. However, environmental concerns are expected to hold up some dredging projects, limiting the growth of this occupation.

Employment of underground mining loading machine operators is projected to experience little or no change from 2012 to 2022, largely due to an expected decline in coal mining, where many of these workers are employed. This will be caused by technology gains that boost worker productivity. Employment of these operators is projected to decline 4 percent in coal mining.

Job Prospects

Job prospects should be favorable. A high number of job openings should be created by the need to replace workers who leave these occupations. 

As automation increases, the technology used by these occupations will become more complex. Employers will prefer workers who are comfortable using technology such as tablet computers and hand-held scanners.

Employment projections data for Material Moving Machine 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

Material moving machine operators

650,600 654,200 1 3,600

Conveyor operators and tenders

53-7011 39,100 40,500 3 1,300 [XLS]

Crane and tower operators

53-7021 43,800 51,200 17 7,400 [XLS]

Dredge operators

53-7031 2,000 2,200 13 300 [XLS]

Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators

53-7032 50,700 58,900 16 8,200 [XLS]

Loading machine operators, underground mining

53-7033 3,300 3,300 -1 0 [XLS]

Hoist and winch operators

53-7041 3,100 3,200 3 100 [XLS]

Industrial truck and tractor operators

53-7051 508,600 495,000 -3 -13,600 [XLS]

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of material moving machine operators.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2012 MEDIAN PAY
Construction equipment operators

Construction Equipment Operators

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

High school diploma or equivalent $40,980
Delivery truck drivers and driver/sales workers

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.

High school diploma or equivalent $27,530
Laborers and material movers

Hand Laborers and Material Movers

Hand laborers and material movers transport objects without using machines. Some workers move freight, stock, or other materials around in storage facilities; others clean vehicles; some pick up unwanted household goods; and still others pack materials for moving.

Less than high school $22,970
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
Material recording clerks

Material Recording Clerks

Material recording clerks keep track of information in order to keep businesses and supply chains on schedule. They ensure proper scheduling, recordkeeping, and inventory control.

See How to Become One $24,810
Water transportation occupations

Water Transportation Occupations

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

See How to Become One $48,980

Contacts for More Information

For more information about careers as a material moving machine operator, visit

MHI

The Warehousing Education and Research Council

International Union of Operating Engineers

National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators

O*NET

Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators

Hoist and Winch Operators

Loading Machine Operators, Underground Mining

Excavating and Loading Machine and Dragline Operators

Dredge Operators

Conveyor Operators and Tenders

Crane and Tower Operators

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Material Moving Machine Operators,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/transportation-and-material-moving/material-moving-machine-operators.htm (visited December 22, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014