How Do People Become Construction Equipment Operators

Blog, Heavy Equipment School

Construction equipment operators are required to possess a broad skill set, ranging from equipment safety to maintenance and care. They also must learn to operate many different types of machinery, from forklifts to bulldozers and cranes. And learning these skills is only the beginning. Equipment operators will find themselves seeking work in a competitive market, as a multitude of candidates vie for positions that can pay up to $73,000 a year. Construction equipment operators will have to be prepared for this as well.

As with most well-paying careers, pursuing a job in heavy equipment requires a commitment to excellence, achieved through both education and experience in the field. Read on to discover how to begin on the path to become a construction equipment operator:

What Do Construction Equipment Operators Do?

Before we go into detail about pursuing a career behind the controls of heavy machinery, we should briefly discuss what, exactly, the job entails. The job description of “construction equipment operator” is of course a very broad one, and one that often carries with it a wide variety of roles and responsibilities.

Primarily, of course, the work focuses on the care, maintenance, and safe operation of several different kinds of heavy machinery. Forklifts, bulldozers, dump trucks, hydraulic cranes, backhoes, and excavators are among the most commonly used equipment, although there are many others.

A person employed as a construction equipment operator will be responsible for checking the job site, as well as the equipment itself, for safety before proceeding with a task. They will then operate the equipment in order to complete a job in any one of several fields. This can mean construction, demolition, or the simple movement of cargo from place to place.

Often, equipment operators will work closely with a team in order to accomplish the task at hand. That means that, as a heavy equipment operator, you may not just be behind the controls of a piece of equipment. You may also be responsible for transmitting and communicating information to other operators in order to get a job done safely.

At the end of a workday, an equipment operator will also be responsible for ensuring everything is shut down and put away safely. They may also be responsible for troubleshooting and occasionally the repair and maintenance of their equipment.

Pre-Employment Requirements

Most job sites require a high school diploma to be considered for employment. The vast majority of employers will also require certification from the National Center for Construction Education and Research, or NCCER. Depending on the job and its requirements, they may also require further licenses and credentials. Of course, no number of credentials will help you get hired if you don’t also possess the relevant experience. Often, one to three years is the requirement.

Earning Experience

The experience requirement stymies many would-be construction equipment operators since it’s a bit of a catch-22. In other words, you can’t be hired if you don’t have experience, and you can’t gain experience if you aren’t hired. Fortunately, savvy candidates will know they can begin earning on-the-job experience if they find the right training school. While classroom learning is a critically important part of pursuing this career, it’s equally important to practice the equipment in the field, in a controlled environment and under the watchful eyes of an experienced instructor.

Getting Your Certificate

In order to receive NCCER credentials, you’ll need to pass both a written exam and a test of skill at the controls of the equipment you’ll be using. The written exam will gauge your familiarity with a particular piece of machinery. You’ll need to earn a separate credential for each type of equipment you will be using. For example, if you’re taking the course in loaders, you’ll need to know the specific details of that machine, details such as its maximum carrying capacity and other such configuration requirements.

The practical exam, involving the actual use of the equipment, will be a series of timed challenges meant to evaluate your skill using the machinery on an actual job site. You’ll be asked to check a machine for safety, then perform tasks that are once again specific to that piece of equipment. If you’re working with a crane, for example, you may be required to rig a load then use the crane to move that load, all without impacting obstacles placed in your path.

Finding the Right School

So far, we’ve established that gaining a job operating construction equipment requires both certification and experience. The only reliable way to gain these is to attend a certified heavy equipment training school. Finding the right school, however, can be a challenge in its own right.

First, it’s critical that the school—and all of its instructors—are certified by the NCCER. This organization has been created, and is run by, heavy equipment professionals from across the country and is devoted to standardizing safety requirements and ensuring a professional and safe workplace. Most employers won’t consider hiring you if you aren’t NCCER certified, so your first step is to ensure your school is as well.

You’ll also want to look for an institution that offers plenty of hands-on training at a job site so you can begin to earn that all-important experience. Look for an organization that offers a balance between classroom learning and training in the field. Both are equally important parts of the job, and a well-rounded heavy equipment school will make sure you have plenty of time with each one.

Of course, you’ll also want to consider the instructors themselves—who’s teaching at this school? Look for an organization that employs experienced construction equipment operators, who themselves have spent plenty of time in the field.

For students located in the Portland area (or ones who are willing to travel there), one such school is West Coast Training. Accredited by the NCCER, they offer a wide variety of courses for prospective students to learn how to operate the various types of heavy equipment. They will also help students who have completed their courses put a resume together as they begin a job search. West Coast Training goes above and beyond the standard expectations for an equipment operator school because they’ll also help students get in touch with prospective employers and forge connections in their industry.