Construction Equipment Operator: Career Information

Crane operator lifting bridge beams
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Job Description:

There's a lot of work to do on a construction site that cannot be done by hand. That is where a construction equipment operator comes in. He or she may operate the equipment that moves heavy materials from Point A to Point B, excavate gravel and earth, drive piles into the ground, or spread and level asphalt, concrete and other paving material.

There are different types of construction equipment operators. Operating engineers use bulldozers, trench excavators, and road graders. Paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators handle machines that spread cement and asphalt to pave roads. Piledriver operators control large machines that hammer heavy beams, used to support building foundations, bridges, and retaining walls, into the ground.

Employment Facts:

There were 404,900 construction equipment operators employed in 2010. They worked for state and local governments, highway, street and bridge construction companies, utility system construction companies and other specialty trade contractors.

Construction equipment operators are on the job in all types of weather and sometimes at odd times, including overnight. They may work in remote locations building highways or dams, in factories or in mines. This job can be dangerous if proper precautions aren't taken. It has a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than other occupations do.

Educational Requirements:

Often someone who wants to become a construction equipment operator will learn his or her trade through on-the-job training. Because some equipment is very technologically advanced, more in-depth training is required. Many who aspire to this occupation choose to become apprentices, enrolling in three or four-year programs. Through a combination of 144 hours per year of technical training and 2000 hours annually of paid on-the-job training, apprentices learn equipment maintenance, how to operate machinery, how to use special technology, such as GPS units, map reading, as well as safety practices and first aid procedures.

Unions and contractor associations typically sponsor apprenticeship programs. You must be at least 18 years old and have earned a high school or equivalency diploma to be eligible to enroll in one. When you complete the program, you will be considered a journey worker. This means you can work without supervision. To learn about apprenticeship programs in your area, contact the local union that represents construction equipment operators or find one on the International Union of Operating Engineers Website.

Other Requirements:

Imagine coordinating your hands and feet in order to operate an extremely large and heavy piece of equipment. Now imagine doing it in a very tight space. Such is the life of a construction equipment operator. If parallel parking befuddled you on your driving road test, imagine needing even greater eye-hand-foot coordination. If you don't have it, this may not be a good occupation for you. Operating construction equipment frequently includes maintaining it, as well. For this, you must have good mechanical skills.

Often a construction equipment operator is required to be licensed, but this varies by state. If one's job requires him or her to move equipment from one site to another, he or she must have a commercial driver's license. To operate some equipment, for example, backhoes, loaders, and bulldozers, one needs a special license. To operate a piledriver in some states, one must have a crane license. It is important to check with the state in which you want to work to find out about specific licensing requirements since they vary so much from place to place and because they may change over time.

The Licensed Occupation Tool from careeronestop can help you learn about requirements for a particular occupation in your state.

Advancement Opportunities:

Experienced construction equipment operators sometimes become instructors, training others for work in this occupation. Some start their own contracting firms.

Job Outlook:

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects job growth for construction equipment operators to be faster than the average for all occupations through 2020. In particular, piledrivers will grow faster, according to the BLS, than most other occupations that require only a high school diploma.


Piledriver operators earned a median annual salary of $45,500 and hourly wages of $21.88 in 2011. Paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators earned $35,270 per year and $16.96 per hour. Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators earned $41,510 annually and $19.96 hourly (US).

Use the Salary Wizard at to find out how much a Construction Equipment Operator currently earns in your city.

A Day in a Construction Equipment Operator's Life:

On a typical day a construction equipment operator's tasks might include:

  • driving equipment sometimes in tight spaces
  • operating equipment in response to crew members' hand or audio signals
  • following safety procedures
  • maintaining equipment, including cleaning and making basic repairs>
  • apprising supervisors of malfunctioning machinery


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Construction Equipment Operators.

Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Operating Engineers and Other Construction Equipment OperatorsPiledriver Operators, and Paving, Surfacing, and Tamping Equipment Operators.