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What Construction Equipment Operators Do About this section

Construction equipment operators
Pile drivers drive piles to support structures such as piers.

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:

  • Clean and maintain equipment, making basic repairs as necessary
  • Report malfunctioning equipment to supervisors
  • Move levers, push pedals, or turn valves to drive and maneuver equipment
  • Coordinate machine actions with crew members using hand or audio signals

Construction equipment operators use machinery to move building supplies, earth, and other heavy materials at construction sites and mines. They operate equipment that clears and grades land to prepare it for the construction of roads, bridges, buildings, aircraft runways, dams, 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. They also operate bulldozers, trench excavators, road graders, and similar equipment. Sometimes, they 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. Tamping equipment operators use machines that compact earth and other fill materials for roadbeds and other construction sites or that 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.

Workers who operate cranes are covered in the material moving machine operators profile.

Work Environment About this section

Construction equipment operators
Construction equipment operators work in nearly all weather conditions.

Construction equipment operators held about 468,300 jobs in 2019. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up construction equipment operators was distributed as follows:

Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators 418,000
Paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators 46,600
Pile driver operators 3,600

The largest employers of construction equipment operators were as follows:

Heavy and civil engineering construction 30%
Specialty trade contractors 28
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 13
Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction 6
Construction of buildings 5

Construction equipment operators work even in unpleasant weather, although rain or extreme cold can stop some types of construction. 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

Construction equipment operators risk injury from hazards such as falls, slips, and trips and transportation incidents. Workers can avoid injury by observing proper operating procedures and safety practices, such as wearing personal protective equipment. Bulldozers, scrapers, and pile drivers are noisy and shake or jolt the operator, which may lead to repetitive stress injuries.

Work Schedules

Construction equipment operators may have irregular schedules, such as continuing around the clock or late into the night. Most construction equipment operators work full time, and some work more than 40 hours per week. The work may be seasonal in areas of the country that experience extreme cold.

How to Become a Construction Equipment Operator About this section

Construction equipment operators
Construction equipment operators should have steady hands and feet to guide and control heavy machinery precisely.

Workers may learn equipment operation on the job after earning a high school diploma or equivalent, through an apprenticeship, or by attending vocational schools.

Education

A high school diploma or equivalent is typically required to become a construction equipment operator. Vocational training and math courses are useful, and a course in automotive mechanics may be helpful because workers often maintain their equipment.

Learning at vocational schools may be beneficial in finding a job. Schools may specialize in a particular brand or type of construction equipment.

Some schools incorporate sophisticated simulator training into their courses, allowing beginners to familiarize themselves with the equipment in a virtual environment before operating real machines.

Training

Many workers learn their jobs by operating light equipment, such as a trench roller, under the guidance of an experienced operator. Later, they may operate heavier equipment, such as bulldozers. Operators of some equipment, such as machines with computerized controls, 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 a typical program, apprentices must complete a predetermined number of hours of technical instruction and paid on-the-job training. Apprenticeship program requirements differ based on the type of program and by region. During technical instruction, apprentices learn operating procedures for equipment as well as safety practices, first aid, and how to read grading plans. On the job, apprentices learn to maintain equipment, operate machinery, and use technology, such as Global Positioning System (GPS) devices.

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

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Construction equipment operators often need a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to haul their equipment to various jobsites. State laws governing CDLs vary.

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

Some states and cities require pile driver operators to have a crane license, because similar operational concerns apply to both pile drivers and cranes. Requirements vary by state. For more information, contact your local or state licensing board.

Important Qualities

Ability to work at heights. Construction equipment operators may need to service pulleys or other devices located at the top of structures, which may be several stories tall.

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

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

Physical stamina. Construction equipment operators may be required to frequently push, carry, or move heavy objects. 

Physical strength. Construction equipment operators may be required to lift more than 50 pounds as part of their duties.

Pay About this section

Construction Equipment Operators

Median annual wages, May 2019

Construction equipment operators

$48,160

Construction trades workers

$46,340

Total, all occupations

$39,810

 

The median annual wage for construction equipment operators was $48,160 in May 2019. 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 $31,780, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $84,650.

Median annual wages for construction equipment operators in May 2019 were as follows:

Pile driver operators $62,600
Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators 48,980
Paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators 40,130

In May 2019, the median annual wages for construction equipment operators in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Construction of buildings $54,180
Heavy and civil engineering construction 52,280
Specialty trade contractors 48,070
Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction 46,950
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 43,080

Apprentices receive less pay than fully trained construction equipment operators. They receive pay increases as they learn more skills.

Construction equipment operators may have irregular schedules, such as continuing around the clock or late into the night. Most construction equipment operators work full time, and some work more than 40 hours per week. The work may be seasonal in areas of the country that experience extreme cold.

Job Outlook About this section

Construction Equipment Operators

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

Construction equipment operators

4%

Total, all occupations

4%

Construction trades workers

3%

 

Overall employment of construction equipment operators is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment growth is expected to vary across the construction equipment operator occupations. (See table.)

Spending on infrastructure is expected to increase, resulting in some new jobs over the decade. Across the country, many roads, bridges, and water and sewer systems are in need of repair. In addition, population growth will require new infrastructure, such as roads and sewer lines, the projects for which are expected to generate jobs.

Job Prospects

About 49,500 openings for construction equipment operators are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Workers able to operate multiple types of equipment should have the best job opportunities. Because apprentices learn to operate a wider variety of machines than do other beginning workers, they usually have better opportunities. In addition, 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.

As with many other types of construction occupations, 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, some areas may need additional workers during peak periods of building activity.

Employment projections data for construction equipment operators, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Construction equipment operators

47-2070 468,300 487,500 4 19,200 Get data

Paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators

47-2071 46,600 48,800 5 2,200 Get data

Pile driver operators

47-2072 3,600 3,800 4 200 Get data

Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators

47-2073 418,000 434,900 4 16,900 Get data

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. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor's Apprenticeship program online or by phone at 877-872-5627. Visit apprenticeship.gov to search for apprenticeship opportunities. 

For more information about construction equipment operators, visit

The Associated General Contractors of America

Pile Driving Contractors Association

For more information about training of construction equipment operators, visit

International Union of Operating Engineers

NCCER

For more information about crane certification and licensure for pile driver operators, visit

National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators

For information about opportunities for military veterans, visit:

Helmets to Hardhats

O*NET

Operating Engineers and Other Construction Equipment Operators

Paving, Surfacing, and Tamping Equipment Operators

Pile-Driver Operators

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