Construction Equipment Operator

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Job Outlook:
As fast as average
Education: High school diploma or equivalent
Average: $51,050.00
Average: $24.54

What Construction Equipment Operators Do

Construction equipment operators drive, maneuver, or control the heavy machinery used to construct roads, bridges, buildings, and other structures.


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

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

Construction equipment operators held about 483,300 jobs in 2022. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up construction equipment operators was distributed as follows:

Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators 437,600
Paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators 42,300
Pile driver operators 3,300

The largest employers of construction equipment operators were as follows:

Specialty trade contractors 29%
Heavy and civil engineering construction 28
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 14
Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction 5
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.

Getting Started

How to Become a Construction Equipment Operator

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.


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.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of construction equipment operators is projected to grow 3 percent from 2022 to 2032, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 42,300 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.


Projected employment of construction equipment operators varies by occupation (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.

Contacts for More Information

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 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


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

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of construction equipment operators.

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2022
Material moving machine operators Material Moving Machine Operators

Material moving machine operators use equipment to transport objects.

See How to Become One $41,730
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.

Postsecondary nondegree award $49,920
Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers run establishments that produce crops, livestock, and dairy products.

High school diploma or equivalent $75,760
Agricultural workers Agricultural Workers

Agricultural workers maintain crops and tend livestock.

See How to Become One $33,290

Information provided by CareerFitter, LLC and other sources.

Sections of this page includes information from the O*NET 27.3 Database by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA). Used under the CC BY 4.0 license.

CareerFitter, LLC has modified all or some of this information. USDOL/ETA has not approved, endorsed, or tested these modifications.