Best Heavy Equipment Operator Schools

North Country Heavy Equipment School offers affordable hands-on learning

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A heavy equipment operator school teaches students how to operate many pieces of heavy machinery, including large wheel loaders, bulldozers, excavators dump trucks, and more forklifts. Most of these schools cost thousands of dollars and provide certification. Those lucky enough to get an apprenticeship program through their local union can even get paid while learning on the job. 

The best heavy equipment operator schools are those that offer hands-on learning in addition to classroom instruction. These programs should provide training on a variety of heavy equipment because each construction job may require proficiency with different equipment at each job site. This helps keep the heavy equipment operator in demand.

Here's our list of the best heavy equipment operator schools to meet your educational needs.

Best Heavy Equipment Operator Schools of 2021

Best Overall : North Country Heavy Equipment School


North Country Heavy Equipment School

North Country Heavy Equipment School

  • Cost of Tuition: $4,990
  • Format: In-person
  • Certification: Yes
Why We Chose It

North Country Heavy Equipment School is the best overall heavy equipment operator school because you spend 95% of your time hands-on and lodging is included in tuition. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Classes offered every month

  • Discounted motel rates if you don’t use student lodging

Cons
  • Must have a roommate for student lodging

  • Enrollment limited to 12 people

Overview

Your North Country Heavy Equipment School tuition includes lodging at its off-site facility. There are five bedrooms and three community bathrooms. Enjoy free WiFi, a fully-equipped shared kitchen, and even a backyard grill and table. If you choose not to stay there, there are plenty of motels with discounted rates as well as several campgrounds nearby. 

Heavy equipment you get to work with includes an excavator, articulated motor grader, articulated front-end loader, compact track loader, 6-way angle blade dozer, extendahoe backhoe, and tandem axle dump truck. Students will earn their Excavation Competent Person Training (ECPT) certification during the four-week training.

Best In-Person Program : National Training, Inc.


National Training

National Training

  • Cost of Tuition: $11,995
  • Format: In-person
  • Certification: Yes
Why We Chose It

The best in-person heavy equipment operator school is National Training, Inc. because it provides more hands-on projects and exercises than most schools we reviewed. This all takes place where the weather is nice year-round so students usually don’t have any training downtime. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Nationwide job placement assistance

  • Veterans and military members may be able to use VA or GI Bill

Cons
  • No on-campus lodging, but the school gets preferred rates at area motels

  • Only one location

Overview

National Training, Inc. has a 350-acre campus in Green Cove Springs, Florida, where students receive National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) registration for bulldozers, loaders, backhoes, and excavators. Learners also get a training certificate to show to potential employers. During your time on-campus, you’ll complete a pre-hire application which will be circulated to potential employers nationwide. To enroll, you must be at least 18 years old, but you do not have to have your driver’s license. 

Tuition costs $11,995 and includes your registration fee. There is also a $75 administration fee not included in your tuition. Schooling consists of classroom lessons and hands-on equipment projects and exercises. Classroom theory hours total 72, and hands-on work totals 136 hours. The program duration is four weeks, all on-site.

Best Online School : Vista


Vista

Vista

  • Cost of Tuition: $49 one-time to $645 per month
  • Format: Online
  • Certification: Yes
Why We Chose It

Vista offers the best online school because of its flexible pricing and quick lessons. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Try two lessons for free

  • Pay-as-you-go training

Cons
  • No hands-on learning

  • Exam scores printed on your certificate

Overview

Because tuition is subscription-based, the faster you go through Vista’s program, the cheaper it will be. Each course takes one to two hours. The subscription covers up to ten users, which is perfect for construction companies wanting to train employees. 

You can also pay-as-you-go without committing to a subscription and purchase each course for $49. This is a great solution for someone on a budget. Alternately, you can pay $129 per month per course library to get access to the following courses:

  • Heavy Equipment Library: 8 courses
  • Support Equipment Library: 7 courses
  • Lifting & Rigging Library: 8 courses
  • Pipelayer Installation Library: 3 courses
  • Online Video Library: 70 videos

Heavy equipment covered includes articulated haul trucks, backhoe loaders, dozers, motor graders, track excavators, and wheel loaders.

Best for Professional Certification : Performance Training Solutions


Performance Training Solutions

Performance Training Solutions

  • Cost of Tuition: $6,995
  • Format: In-person
  • Certification: Yes
Why We Chose It

Performance Training Solutions (PTS) offers the best heavy equipment operator school for professional certification allowing you to get certification through both NCCER and NCCCO. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Save $500 on tuition by getting a tour

  • 70% of your 120-hour training is hands-on

Cons
  • Meals not provided

  • Lodging not provided, but PTS gets preferred rates at local motels

Overview

There are three courses offered by PTS: Heavy Equipment Operator I, Heavy Equipment Operator II, and Mobile Crane Operations. Each is three weeks long or 120 hours. You’ll attend a class every weekday near Columbus, OH. The Heavy Equipment Operator courses are $6,995 and provide NCCER certification. Mobile Crane Operations costs $6,495 and offers certification through the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO). 

While PTS’s website lists only a few states served, you can attend school no matter which state you’re in provided you can attend classes every weekday on-campus. You must be 18 years or older to enroll, and if you have any disabilities, you need to request accommodations ahead of time. Equipment you’ll learn to operate includes cranes, backhoes, skid steers, wheel loaders, and off-road dump trucks. The school also offers nationwide, lifetime, career assistance after you graduate.

Best for Apprenticeships : International Union of Operating Engineers


International Union of Operating Engineers

International Union of Operating Engineers

  • Cost of Tuition: Free
  • Format: In-person
  • Certification: Yes
Why We Chose It

The best heavy equipment operator school apprenticeship is through the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) because it’s free. In fact, they’ll pay you and give you the same benefits offered to all IUOE members. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Health insurance, pension, and access to union training programs

  • Master a variety of heavy equipment

Cons
  • Very competitive with few openings

  • Earning a spot may require networking

Overview

Before starting your apprenticeship with IUOE, you must complete a 40-hour pre-apprenticeship training at your local union’s training facility. During your apprenticeship, you’ll get three years (6,000 hours) of training. This includes 192 hours of correspondent training and 240 hours of classroom instruction; the rest is learned on the job. 

Becoming an apprentice with IUOE doesn’t cost you anything. In fact, they’ll pay you so you can learn on the job. Apprenticeship positions are highly competitive within IUOE with some locations getting so many inquiries they hold a drawing and randomly select 50 people to receive an application. If you can’t get into your local program, you can search for available positions nationwide.

Best Vocational Training Program : Hawkeye Community College


Hawkeye Community College

Hawkeye Community College

  • Cost of Tuition: $4,499
  • Format: In-person
  • Certification: Yes
Why We Chose It

With its focus on both light and heavy equipment, Hawkeye Community College lets you earn a certificate that encompasses many different types of equipment you’ll encounter on a construction site. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Scholarships available

  • Simulated training to prepare for using actual equipment

Cons
  • Focuses on learning light equipment only

  • No formal job placement program

Overview

Located in Waterloo, Iowa, Hawkeye Community College will let you earn your non-credit certificate in eight weeks under the Construction Equipment Operator Training. This combines both light and heavy equipment in 240 hours of both in-class and hands-on learning and involves both working in simulation and on heavy equipment. You’ll work with bulldozers, excavators, skid steer loaders, large wheel loaders, motor graders, mini excavators, all-terrain forklifts, and dump trucks. 

Tuition is $4,499 and doesn’t include any meals or lodging. However, the campus is located right next to a busy shopping area with plenty of lodging and meal options. There are a limited number of scholarship applications available as well as a limited class size, so apply early.

Final Verdict

No matter which type of job site you prefer, you’ll need to know how to operate many different pieces of heavy equipment. The best way to do this is to attend a heavy equipment operator school if you can’t learn on the job. 

We recommend North Country Heavy Equipment School because of its affordability and percentage of time learning hands-on with a variety of heavy equipment. Plus, it provides free student lodging with amenities. 

Compare the Best Heavy Equipment Operator Schools

Company Program Format Cost of Tuition Duration Certification(s) Available Admission Requirements
North Country Heavy Equipment School
Best Overall
In-person $4,990 4 weeks NCCER None
National Training, Inc
Best In-Person Program 
In-person  $11,995  4 weeks  NCCER  Must be 18+ 
Vista
Best Online School 
Online $49 one-time to $645 per month  1 to 2 hours per program  Vista-specific  None
Performance Training Solutions
Best for Professional Certification 
In-person  $6,995  3 weeks  NCCER and NCCCO  Must be 18+ 
International Union of Operating Engineers
Best for Apprenticeships 
In-person  Free  3 years  NCCER  40 hours of training at its facility 
Hawkeye Community College
Best Vocational Training Program 
In-person  $4,499  8 weeks  NCCER  None

Frequently Asked Questions

Is It Worth It to Attend Heavy Equipment Operator School? 

Many heavy equipment operator schools have contacts with national employers wanting to hire people who’ve graduated from their programs. Some schools boast a 100% job placement rate, while some others hover in the upper 90th percentile. 

These career placement opportunities can set you apart from someone who hasn’t gone to school to learn how to operate the equipment used on the job. While there are online heavy equipment operator schools, nothing beats being able to handle the equipment in person. 

Construction equipment operators earn a median salary of $49,100 or $23.61 per hour. Specializing in heavy equipment can earn you even more with the average hourly wage for a heavy equipment operator coming in at $32. 

What Prior Education Is Needed to Attend Heavy Equipment Operator School?

Many heavy equipment operator schools require you to be at least 18 years old and have either a high school diploma or a GED. Most schools require you have your driver’s license, and others require that and a commercial driver’s license (CDL). 

If your school requires a CDL, they may let you start schooling and then earn your CDL before starting the hands-on portion requiring it. Other skills that can help include math, verbal comprehension, and communication. 

What Is the Duration of a Heavy Equipment Operator School Program?

Most heavy equipment operator schools are at least three weeks long. However, it’s not uncommon to find training programs that are eight weeks long. The duration of the program often depends on class size and the number of equipment available. Smaller class sizes can usually finish quicker because there are fewer people to go through training. 

If you join an apprenticeship program, such as through your local union, you can expect this to last three years or 6,000 hours. The vast majority of those hours aren’t spent in the classroom. Instead, you’ll spend your time learning and earning on the job. 

Methodology

We evaluated 14 different heavy equipment operator schools and narrowed them down to the best options based on costs, program duration, company reputation, and student experience. The quality of training and student reviews also weighed heavily in our rankings. 

Each of our picks also offers certification, reasonable prices, and a great reputation. Most also provide hands-on training and job placement assistance.

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Construction equipment operators." Accessed May 21, 2021.

  2. Salary.com. "Hourly wage for heavy equipment operator." Accessed May 21, 2021.