How to Become a Construction Equipment Operator
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.
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.
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.
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.