Material Moving Machine Operators

Summary

material moving machine operators image
Material moving machine operators use machinery to move goods around a warehouse or onto container ships.
Quick Facts: Material Moving Machine Operators
2015 Median Pay $33,640 per year
$16.18 per hour
Typical 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, 2014 679,900
Job Outlook, 2014-24 3% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 19,500

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 excavate earth from a mine. Others move goods around a warehouse or onto container ships.

Work Environment

Most material moving machine operators work full time, and overtime for them is 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 occupation. 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 $33,640 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of material moving machine operators is projected to grow 3 percent from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average for all occupations. Job openings should result from the need to replace workers who leave these occupations.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for material moving machine operators.

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 excavate earth from a mine. Others move goods around a warehouse or onto container ships.

Duties

Material moving machine operators typically do the following:

  • Set up and inspect material moving equipment
  • Control equipment with levers, wheels, or foot pedals
  • Move material according to a plan or schedule
  • Keep a record of the material they move and where they move it
  • Make minor repairs to their equipment

In warehouses, most material moving machine operators use forklifts and conveyor belts. Wireless sensors and tags are increasingly used to keep track of merchandise, allowing operators to locate them faster. Some operators also check goods for damage. These operators usually work closely with 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 coal, ore, and other mined materials.

In construction, material moving machine operators remove earth to clear space for buildings. Some work on a building site for the entire length of the construction project. For example, certain material moving machine operators help to construct highrise 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.

Conveyor operators and tenders control conveyor systems that move materials on an automatic belt. They move materials to and from places such as storage areas, vehicles, and building sites. 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.

Crane and tower operators use tower and cable equipment to lift and move materials, machinery, or other heavy objects. From a control station, operators can extend and retract horizontal booms, rotate the superstructure, 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 voice signals through a radio. Most crane and tower operators work at construction sites or major ports, where they load and unload cargo. Some operators work in iron and steel mills. 

Dredge operators excavate waterways. They operate equipment on the water to remove sand, gravel, or rock from harbors or lakes. Removing these materials helps to prevent erosion and maintain navigable waterways, and allows larger ships to use more ports. Dredging is also used to help restore wetlands and maintain beaches.

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 may also 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.

Hoist and winch operators, also called derrick operators, control the movement of platforms, cables, and cages that transport workers or materials for industrial operations, such as constructing a highrise 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. Many work in manufacturing, mining, and quarrying industries.

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 make 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.

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. 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 farther into the mine in order to gather more material.

Work Environment

Material moving machine operators
Industrial truck and tractor operators use forklifts in warehousing and storage facilities.

Material moving machine operators held about 679,900 jobs in 2014. They worked in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, and wholesale trade. Some material moving machine operators worked in construction and mining.

Employment in the detailed occupations that make up this group in 2014 was distributed as follows:

Industrial truck and tractor operators  530,900
Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators  53,900
Crane and tower operators  45,500
Conveyor operators and tenders  39,700
Loading machine operators, underground mining  4,800
Hoist and winch operators  2,900
Dredge operators  2,200

Injuries and Illnesses

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

Crane and tower operators, industrial truck and tractor operators, and excavating and loading machine and dragline operators, all have higher rates of injuries and illnesses than the national average.

Many workers wear gloves, hardhats, or respirators. 

Work Schedules

Most material moving machine operators work full time, and overtime for them is 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
Material moving machine operators are trained on the job.

Education and training requirements vary by the occupation. Crane operators and excavating machine operators usually have several years of experience in related occupations, such as construction equipment operators or hoist or winch operators.

Education

Although no formal education is usually required, some companies prefer material moving machine operators to have a high school diploma. For crane operators, excavating machine operators, and dredge operators, however, a high school diploma or equivalent is typically required.

Training

Most material moving machine operators are trained on the job in less than a month. Some machines are more complex than others, such as cranes as compared with industrial trucks such as forklifts. Therefore, the amount of time spent in training will vary with the type of machine the operator is using. Learning to operate a forklift or an industrial truck in warehouses, for example, may take only a few days. Training to operate a crane for port operations may take several months. Most workers are trained by a supervisor or another experienced employee.

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, material moving machine operators learn a number of safety rules, many of which are standardized through the Occupational Safety & 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 must pass a written exam that tests their knowledge of safety rules and procedures. Some crane operators and industrial truck and tractor operators may obtain certification, which includes passing a written exam.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Crane operators and excavating machine operators usually have several years of experience working as construction equipment operators or hoist and winch operators. 

Important Qualities

Alertness. Material moving machine operators must be aware of their surroundings while operating machinery.

Hand–eye–foot coordination. Material moving machine operators should have steady hands and feet to guide and control heavy machinery precisely. They use hand controls to maneuver their machines through tight spaces, around large objects, and on uneven surfaces.

Mechanical skills. Material moving machine operators make minor adjustments to their machines and perform basic maintenance.

Visual ability. Material moving machine operators must be able to clearly see 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 2015

Total, all occupations

$36,200

Material moving machine operators

$33,640

Material moving workers

$25,420

 

The median annual wage for material moving machine operators was $33,640 in May 2015. 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 $22,080, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $55,060.

Median annual wages for material moving machine operators in May 2015 were as follows:

Loading machine operators, underground mining $52,320
Crane and tower operators 51,650
Hoist and winch operators 42,220
Dredge operators 40,060
Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators 40,050
Industrial truck and tractor operators 32,090
Conveyor operators and tenders 32,050

Most material moving machine operators work full time, and overtime for them is 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 2014.

Job Outlook

Material Moving Machine Operators

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Total, all occupations

7%

Material moving workers

4%

Material moving machine operators

3%

 

Employment of material moving machine operators is projected to grow 3 percent from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average for all occupations.

Employment of industrial truck and tractor operators is projected to grow 2 percent from 2014 to 2024. Employment of this occupation is concentrated in warehouse environments. Although the need for warehouses will grow as consumer spending increases, employment growth of these operators may be limited as more warehouses use equipment such as robotic pickers. This equipment increases the efficiency of operators, allowing warehouses to employ fewer of them.

Employment of excavating and loading machine and dragline operators is projected to grow 6 percent from 2014 to 2024. Many of these operators work in the construction industry, whose projected growth will drive job growth in this occupation.

Employment of crane and tower operators is projected to grow 8 percent from 2014 to 2024. 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 of crane and tower operators also will be driven by growth in the construction industry, which employs many of these workers. Employment of crane operators is projected to grow 11 percent in construction.

Employment of conveyor operators and tenders is projected to show little or no change from 2014 to 2024. Employment growth will be limited as more warehouses use equipment such as high-speed conveyors, high-speed sorting systems, and robotic pickers. This equipment increases the efficiency of operators and tenders, allowing warehouses to employ fewer of them.

Employment of underground mining loading machine operators is projected to show little or no change from 2014 to 2024, largely due to an expected decline in coal mining, where many of these workers are employed.

Employment of hoist and winch operators is projected to grow 2 percent from 2014 to 2024. Similar to crane and tower operators, they will be needed at ports to help load and unload cargo, but employment growth for this occupation may be limited by port automation.

Employment of dredge operators is projected to grow 9 percent from 2014 to 2024. Demand for dredging of various water areas, including canals, lakes, rivers, and harbors, in order to improve the traffic on waterways and their recreational use, will drive employment growth of these workers.

Job Prospects

Job prospects are expected to be favorable. Many job openings should be created by the need to replace workers who leave these occupations. 

Employment projections data for material moving machine operators, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Material moving machine operators

679,900 699,400 3 19,500

Conveyor operators and tenders

53-7011 39,700 39,600 0 -100 [XLSX]

Crane and tower operators

53-7021 45,500 49,000 8 3,400 [XLSX]

Dredge operators

53-7031 2,200 2,300 9 200 [XLSX]

Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators

53-7032 53,900 57,300 6 3,400 [XLSX]

Loading machine operators, underground mining

53-7033 4,800 4,800 0 0 [XLSX]

Hoist and winch operators

53-7041 2,900 2,900 2 0 [XLSX]

Industrial truck and tractor operators

53-7051 530,900 543,500 2 12,600 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

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 2015 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 $43,810
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 $27,760
Laborers and material movers

Hand Laborers and Material Movers

Hand laborers and material movers manually move freight, stock, or other materials. Others feed or remove material to and from machines, clean vehicles, pick up unwanted household goods, and pack materials for moving.

No formal educational credential $24,090
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 with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) capacity—that is, the combined weight of the vehicle, passengers, and cargo—exceeding 26,000 pounds. These drivers deliver goods over intercity routes, sometimes spanning several states.

Postsecondary nondegree award $40,260
Water transportation occupations

Water Transportation Workers

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

See How to Become One $55,000

Contacts for More Information

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

MHI

Warehousing Education and Research Council

International Union of Operating Engineers

National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators

O*NET

Conveyor Operators and Tenders

Crane and Tower Operators

Dredge Operators

Excavating and Loading Machine and Dragline Operators

Hoist and Winch Operators

Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators

Loading Machine Operators, Underground Mining

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Material Moving Machine Operators,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/transportation-and-material-moving/material-moving-machine-operators.htm (visited April 30, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015