Operating Engineers and Other Construction Equipment Operators

This is a sub-career of Construction Equipment Operator

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Job Outlook:
As fast as average
Education: High school diploma or equivalent
Salary
High: $93,060.00
Average: $59,420.00
Hourly
Average: $28.57

What they do:

Operate one or several types of power construction equipment, such as motor graders, bulldozers, scrapers, compressors, pumps, derricks, shovels, tractors, or front-end loaders to excavate, move, and grade earth, erect structures, or pour concrete or other hard surface pavement. May repair and maintain equipment in addition to other duties.

On the job, you would:

  • Learn and follow safety regulations.
  • Take actions to avoid potential hazards or obstructions, such as utility lines, other equipment, other workers, or falling objects.
  • Start engines, move throttles, switches, or levers, or depress pedals to operate machines, such as bulldozers, trench excavators, road graders, or backhoes.

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.

Personality

A3 Your Strengths Importance

Characteristics of this Career

99% Dependability  -  Job requires being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.
87% Initiative  -  Job requires a willingness to take on responsibilities and challenges.
84% Attention to Detail  -  Job requires being careful about detail and thorough in completing work tasks.
84% Cooperation  -  Job requires being pleasant with others on the job and displaying a good-natured, cooperative attitude.
84% Adaptability/Flexibility  -  Job requires being open to change (positive or negative) and to considerable variety in the workplace.
78% Stress Tolerance  -  Job requires accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with high-stress situations.
78% Independence  -  Job requires developing one's own ways of doing things, guiding oneself with little or no supervision, and depending on oneself to get things done.
78% Persistence  -  Job requires persistence in the face of obstacles.
77% Integrity  -  Job requires being honest and ethical.
75% Self-Control  -  Job requires maintaining composure, keeping emotions in check, controlling anger, and avoiding aggressive behavior, even in very difficult situations.
73% Innovation  -  Job requires creativity and alternative thinking to develop new ideas for and answers to work-related problems.
73% Concern for Others  -  Job requires being sensitive to others' needs and feelings and being understanding and helpful on the job.
73% Achievement/Effort  -  Job requires establishing and maintaining personally challenging achievement goals and exerting effort toward mastering tasks.
73% Leadership  -  Job requires a willingness to lead, take charge, and offer opinions and direction.
A3 Your Strengths Importance

Strengths

100% Realistic  -  Work involves designing, building, or repairing of equipment, materials, or structures, engaging in physical activity, or working outdoors. Realistic occupations are often associated with engineering, mechanics and electronics, construction, woodworking, transportation, machine operation, agriculture, animal services, physical or manual labor, athletics, or protective services.
A3 Your Strengths Importance

Values of the Work Environment

67% Support  -  Occupations that satisfy this work value offer supportive management that stands behind employees. Corresponding needs are Company Policies, Supervision: Human Relations and Supervision: Technical.

Aptitude

A3 Your Strengths Importance

Abilities | Cognitive, Physical, Personality

78% Control Precision  -  The ability to quickly and repeatedly adjust the controls of a machine or a vehicle to exact positions.
75% Depth Perception  -  The ability to judge which of several objects is closer or farther away from you, or to judge the distance between you and an object.
72% Multilimb Coordination  -  The ability to coordinate two or more limbs (for example, two arms, two legs, or one leg and one arm) while sitting, standing, or lying down. It does not involve performing the activities while the whole body is in motion.
72% Near Vision  -  The ability to see details at close range (within a few feet of the observer).
66% Far Vision  -  The ability to see details at a distance.

Job Details

Responsibilities
Update job related knowledge or skills.
Position construction or extraction equipment.
Operate heavy-duty construction or installation equipment.
Operate equipment or vehicles to clear construction sites or move materials.
Locate equipment or materials in need of repair or replacement.
Monitor construction operations.
Position construction or extraction equipment.
Load or unload materials used in construction or extraction.
Operate equipment or vehicles to clear construction sites or move materials.
Move construction or extraction materials to locations where they are needed.
Position construction or extraction equipment.
Operate equipment or vehicles to clear construction sites or move materials.
Maintain construction tools or equipment.
Monitor construction operations.
Install equipment attachments or components.
Operate equipment or vehicles to clear construction sites or move materials.
Select construction equipment.
Install equipment attachments or components.
Test air quality at work sites.
Compact materials to create level bases.
Review blueprints or specifications to determine work requirements.
Communicate with clients about products, procedures, and policies.
Signal equipment operators to indicate proper equipment positioning.
Operate road-surfacing equipment.
Operate heavy-duty construction or installation equipment.
Assist skilled construction or extraction personnel.
Record operational or environmental data.
Drive trucks or truck-mounted equipment.
Operate pumps or compressors.
Remove debris or vegetation from work sites.
Estimate construction project costs.
A3 Your Strengths Importance

Attributes & Percentage of Time Spent

100% Outdoors, Exposed to Weather  -  How often does this job require working outdoors, exposed to all weather conditions?
100% Wear Common Protective or Safety Equipment such as Safety Shoes, Glasses, Gloves, Hearing Protection, Hard Hats, or Life Jackets  -  How much does this job require wearing common protective or safety equipment such as safety shoes, glasses, gloves, hard hats or life jackets?
97% Consequence of Error  -  How serious would the result usually be if the worker made a mistake that was not readily correctable?
96% Face-to-Face Discussions  -  How often do you have to have face-to-face discussions with individuals or teams in this job?
96% Frequency of Decision Making  -  How frequently is the worker required to make decisions that affect other people, the financial resources, and/or the image and reputation of the organization?
92% Exposed to Hazardous Equipment  -  How often does this job require exposure to hazardous equipment?
91% Contact With Others  -  How much does this job require the worker to be in contact with others (face-to-face, by telephone, or otherwise) in order to perform it?
91% Spend Time Using Your Hands to Handle, Control, or Feel Objects, Tools, or Controls  -  How much does this job require using your hands to handle, control, or feel objects, tools or controls?
89% Impact of Decisions on Co-workers or Company Results  -  What results do your decisions usually have on other people or the image or reputation or financial resources of your employer?
88% Exposed to Contaminants  -  How often does this job require working exposed to contaminants (such as pollutants, gases, dust or odors)?
84% Responsibility for Outcomes and Results  -  How responsible is the worker for work outcomes and results of other workers?
84% In an Open Vehicle or Equipment  -  How often does this job require working in an open vehicle or equipment (e.g., tractor)?
83% Responsible for Others' Health and Safety  -  How much responsibility is there for the health and safety of others in this job?
80% Spend Time Making Repetitive Motions  -  How much does this job require making repetitive motions?
79% Structured versus Unstructured Work  -  To what extent is this job structured for the worker, rather than allowing the worker to determine tasks, priorities, and goals?
77% Telephone  -  How often do you have telephone conversations in this job?
76% Work With Work Group or Team  -  How important is it to work with others in a group or team in this job?
76% Time Pressure  -  How often does this job require the worker to meet strict deadlines?
75% In an Enclosed Vehicle or Equipment  -  How often does this job require working in a closed vehicle or equipment (e.g., car)?
75% Freedom to Make Decisions  -  How much decision making freedom, without supervision, does the job offer?
75% Pace Determined by Speed of Equipment  -  How important is it to this job that the pace is determined by the speed of equipment or machinery? (This does not refer to keeping busy at all times on this job.)
74% Exposed to Whole Body Vibration  -  How often does this job require exposure to whole body vibration (e.g., operate a jackhammer)?
73% Importance of Being Exact or Accurate  -  How important is being very exact or highly accurate in performing this job?
71% Sounds, Noise Levels Are Distracting or Uncomfortable  -  How often does this job require working exposed to sounds and noise levels that are distracting or uncomfortable?
70% Physical Proximity  -  To what extent does this job require the worker to perform job tasks in close physical proximity to other people?
66% Very Hot or Cold Temperatures  -  How often does this job require working in very hot (above 90 F degrees) or very cold (below 32 F degrees) temperatures?
75% Duration of Typical Work Week  -  Number of hours typically worked in one week.
A3 Your Strengths Importance

Tasks & Values

91% Controlling Machines and Processes  -  Using either control mechanisms or direct physical activity to operate machines or processes (not including computers or vehicles).
90% Operating Vehicles, Mechanized Devices, or Equipment  -  Running, maneuvering, navigating, or driving vehicles or mechanized equipment, such as forklifts, passenger vehicles, aircraft, or watercraft.
90% Monitoring Processes, Materials, or Surroundings  -  Monitoring and reviewing information from materials, events, or the environment, to detect or assess problems.
87% Making Decisions and Solving Problems  -  Analyzing information and evaluating results to choose the best solution and solve problems.
87% Getting Information  -  Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
85% Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Materials  -  Inspecting equipment, structures, or materials to identify the cause of errors or other problems or defects.
82% Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events  -  Identifying information by categorizing, estimating, recognizing differences or similarities, and detecting changes in circumstances or events.
79% Repairing and Maintaining Mechanical Equipment  -  Servicing, repairing, adjusting, and testing machines, devices, moving parts, and equipment that operate primarily on the basis of mechanical (not electronic) principles.
77% Evaluating Information to Determine Compliance with Standards  -  Using relevant information and individual judgment to determine whether events or processes comply with laws, regulations, or standards.
75% Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates  -  Providing information to supervisors, co-workers, and subordinates by telephone, in written form, e-mail, or in person.
74% Handling and Moving Objects  -  Using hands and arms in handling, installing, positioning, and moving materials, and manipulating things.
72% Organizing, Planning, and Prioritizing Work  -  Developing specific goals and plans to prioritize, organize, and accomplish your work.
72% Performing General Physical Activities  -  Performing physical activities that require considerable use of your arms and legs and moving your whole body, such as climbing, lifting, balancing, walking, stooping, and handling materials.
70% Estimating the Quantifiable Characteristics of Products, Events, or Information  -  Estimating sizes, distances, and quantities; or determining time, costs, resources, or materials needed to perform a work activity.
70% Scheduling Work and Activities  -  Scheduling events, programs, and activities, as well as the work of others.
68% Performing for or Working Directly with the Public  -  Performing for people or dealing directly with the public. This includes serving customers in restaurants and stores, and receiving clients or guests.
67% Establishing and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships  -  Developing constructive and cooperative working relationships with others, and maintaining them over time.
66% Judging the Qualities of Objects, Services, or People  -  Assessing the value, importance, or quality of things or people.
65% Communicating with People Outside the Organization  -  Communicating with people outside the organization, representing the organization to customers, the public, government, and other external sources. This information can be exchanged in person, in writing, or by telephone or e-mail.
65% Coordinating the Work and Activities of Others  -  Getting members of a group to work together to accomplish tasks.

What Construction Equipment Operators Do

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

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

Education:
82%
High School Diploma - or the equivalent (for example, GED)
16%
Some College Courses

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.

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.

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.

Employment

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 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

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.