Skilled Trades Careers

How to Become a Heavy Equipment Operator in America

DateDecember 8, 2023
how to become an operating engineer in america

If you have a strong work ethic and an interest in machinery, you might want to explore how to become a heavy equipment operator. Whether you're a student or an experienced trade worker, the SkillHero app can provide guidance to help you explore this rewarding career path.

Our free app features a database training opportunities, job postings, industry news, and a supportive community of like-minded individuals. You'll save time while gaining the mechanical aptitude and soft skills necessary to find an ideal position.

Sign up for a free SKillHero account to access all of our tools and resources, then keep reading to learn about the core steps to becoming a successful heavy equipment operator.

What is a heavy equipment operator and what do they do?

Heavy equipment operators are skilled trade workers who operate and maintain heavy construction equipment, such as bulldozers, cranes, and pavers. They are responsible for ensuring that the equipment is in good working condition, conducting routine maintenance, and operating it safely and efficiently on construction sites.

A day in the life of an heavy equipment operator may involve inspecting different types of equipment, coordinating with other workers, and carrying out instructions to accomplish specific tasks. It may also involve running tests to ensure efficient operations, consulting blueprints to construct machines or identify parts that need replacing, and performing routine maintenance.

Heavy equipment operator play a crucial role in manufacturing and construction industries, as well as others. They're responsible for operating and maintaining heavy equipment on job sites, and earn above-average wages thanks to their valuable skills.

Is it hard to become a heavy equipment operator?

Becoming a heavy equipment operator requires completing a formal apprenticeship program, which includes a mix of classroom instruction and on-the-job training. The physical requirements of the job can be demanding, as heavy equipment operators often work outdoors in all types of weather and may need to lift heavy machinery.

While this career path is challenging, it offers significant benefits. Heavy equipment operator are in high demand and can enjoy competitive salaries, job security, and opportunities for advancement. Their work can be incredibly rewarding for those who enjoy hands-on problem solving and seeing the impact of their work throughout society.

Average salary for heavy equipment operators

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, heavy equipment operators earn an average salary of $36,550 at the apprentice level, $51,050 at the journeyman level, and $92,390 at the master level.

Operating Engineer average salary SkillHero

Heavy equipment operator salaries can vary based on factors such as the state or city they work in, the industry they are employed in, and specializations. For example, California typically has higher pay than other states because of the size of their economy and their high cost of living.

Operators with significant experience or specialized expertise may also be able to out-earn their peers with similar seniority. If you're ready to get started in this trade, sign up for a free SkillHero account to get access to all of our tools and resources.

How to become an heavy equipment operator in the United States

While becoming a heavy equipment operator isn't easy, there is a clear path you can follow to build a career in this field. Here's a simple breakdown of the steps you can customize to your interests and skills.

Get a high school diploma or similar credential

It's essential to obtain a high school diploma or equivalent credential as it opens the door to many opportunities for further education, employment, and personal development.

Whether pursuing a post-secondary education or entering the workforce, having a high school diploma signals to potential employers and institutions that you have the necessary knowledge and work ethic to move forward.

For those who may not have completed high school, obtaining a General Education Development (GED) certificate is a valuable alternative. The GED program offers individuals the chance to earn a high school equivalency credential by passing a series of exams in core subject areas.

This credential holds the same weight as a traditional high school diploma and provides access to the same jobs.

Another basic credential which is often required and always a benefit is a valid driver license. Even if your job doesn't specifically involve driving, tradespeople often work on large or multiple job sites, so not being a legal driver can slow you down.

Create a skilled trade resume

Having a great resume is crucial in any skilled trade profession. Employers look for specific certifications, specialized training, and hands-on experience when choosing which heavy equipment operators to interview. For beginners, it's important to highlight any relevant coursework, apprenticeships, or volunteer work.

With our free resume builder you can easily create a polished and professional resume that will catch the eye of potential employers. It's easy to update and you can export it as a PDF or share it with employers directly via SkillHero.

Whether you're just starting out in your trade or looking to advance your career, a well-crafted resume can make all the difference. Sign up for a free SkillHero account to take advantage of our resume builder and other resources.

Find an apprenticeship

Heavy equipment operator apprenticeships are essential for developing the next generation of skilled workers. Aspiring heavy equipment operators gain hands-on experience, technical knowledge, and industry-specific training through these programs, making them highly valuable to contractors and employers.

The apprenticeship process typically begins with a pre-apprenticeship program, where individuals learn basic skills and gain exposure to the trade. After completing the program, aspiring heavy equipment operators can secure a letter of intent from a contractor, which allows them to apply for an apprenticeship.

You may need to join a union in order to get started, or in some cases you may only owe union dues after completing a certain number of paid hours.

Network with peers

Networking with peers in the field of heavy equipment operation is great for professional growth and advancement. Building relationships with other skilled trade workers allows for valuable knowledge sharing, mentorship opportunities, and potential job referrals.

By joining SkillHero, you can easily connect with other professionals, access training programs, and find new job opportunities. You can also participate in professional organizations and attend industry events, or just reach out to other professionals on LinkedIn.

By actively networking with peers, skilled trade workers can gain insights, share experiences, and build a strong professional support system. Sign up for a free SkillHero account to access our community and resources.

Acquire and upgrade certifications

Acquiring and upgrading certifications is crucial for career advancement in skilled trades. Certifications demonstrate a worker’s proficiency and commitment to staying current in their field, making them more competitive in the job market.

Some of the best places to get certifications in these areas include the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO), and Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) for automotive engineering. Many trade schools and community colleges also offer certification programs.

By acquiring and maintaining certifications, trade workers can enhance their authority and potentially earn higher pay. Sign up for a free SkillHero account today to get regular updates about certifications that can help you advance your career.

Who should become a heavy equipment operator?

Heavy equipment operator usually possess a strong work ethic, self-discipline, and a willingness to learn. They also often have an interest in machinery and equipment, as well as the ability to solve problems and work independently. Talents such as mechanical skills and spatial reasoning are also beneficial for the role.

To become an heavy equipment operator, you must be committed to pursuing the necessary education and on-the-job training. This may include obtaining standard certifications and completing an apprenticeship program or vocational training.

Obtaining a commercial driver's license may be required for certain positions. If you possess these personality traits, interests, and talents and are willing to make the necessary commitment to education and training, becoming a heavy equipment operator could be a great career choice.

Ready to explore opportunities in the skilled trades? Sign up for a free SkillHero account today and gain access to valuable resources and training in the skilled trades.