What Is a Bulldozer and How Do I Become an Operator?

Heavy Equipment

Yellow bulldozer on dirt at construction site.

A career in construction is a dream job for many: who hasn’t imagined themselves behind the controls of a bulldozer, helping a building project take shape? Or controlling a crane as they work with a team to assemble some massive new structure? Of course, there are many jobs in the construction industry, and all of them are critically important, but few jobs generate as much demand as heavy equipment operators.

This demand runs both ways. Employers want skilled operators, and prospective employees hope to score a position as dozer operators, in no small part due to the fact that workers with heavy equipment training can earn more money than those without it. Job security is a factor too. Being equipped with in-demand skills makes you highly employable, even when other job prospects are scarce.

So how does one start the path of becoming a bulldozer operator? What is a bulldozer, anyway, and how is it different from other types of heavy equipment? Where can you acquire the highly sought-after skills that are necessary to get behind the controls of a dozer or other type of heavy equipment? We’ll try to answer these questions, and others, below:

What Is a Bulldozer?

A bulldozer is a powerful piece of heavy machinery designed to push soil, rubble, sand, or other large amounts of construction materials. In essence, it’s a massive tractor with a large metal plate (called a blade) attached to it. Many bulldozers utilize tracks to move around, which gives them a great deal of versatility on construction sites. Unlike wheels, tracks will not sink into soft or muddy dirt, due to the wider distribution of the vehicle’s weight. This allows bulldozers to be used on nearly any type of terrain, and as such, they have become ubiquitous at any jobsite that involves the movement of a large amount of sediment.

As with many types of heavy equipment, bulldozers gain their immense moving power from hydraulic mechanisms, which use pressurized oil or other liquids to move the blades. This is what allows them to move massive amounts of material throughout the day. The dozer operator controls its movement through the use of a joystick, which requires practice and experience to master. Once it is mastered, however, bulldozers become versatile and maneuverable machines that are incredibly useful on construction sites.

Bulldozers are related to, but distinct from, similar types of heavy equipment, such as earthmovers. Haulers, cranes, forklifts, and loaders are all related to the bulldozer to varying degrees. Heavy equipment operators in training will often learn to use these and many other, similar types of machinery.

What Does an Operator Need to Know?

Operating a bulldozer properly begins before you ever step inside of it and take the controls. Operators need to ensure the safety of everyone on the jobsite from the moment they arrive. This means ensuring that the area is secure and the equipment is safe to operate. As a dozer operator, you’ll learn to keep an eye out for hazards so that you don’t attempt to work in an unsafe site. The area must be cleared of dangers such as power cables and anything that may interfere with the machinery. You’ll also need to ensure that there are no people nearby who may be put at risk by heavy equipment operating.

A bulldozer operator will also be able to inspect the equipment before turning it on. They must be able to check the oil to ensure the engine is functioning properly. They’ll also check the fuel levels and verify the hydraulic mechanisms aren’t leaking. They will ensure the brakes are functioning properly and test the controls briefly before driving the bulldozer anywhere. When you begin your heavy equipment training, you’ll practice all of the safety steps by working your way down a checklist. Eventually, all of the safety protocols will become second nature, performed quickly and efficiently every time you arrive on a jobsite.

Getting Behind the Controls

Mastering heavy equipment such as the bulldozer requires educating yourself both through study and through many hours of experience in the field. Certain techniques can only be learned by practicing them over and over again. Each bulldozer, of course, is different as well. As you sit behind the controls of your own bulldozer, you’ll learn how to best drive it to generate the most amount of torque to move material as efficiently as possible. You’ll also learn how best to operate your bulldozer in order to prolong its working life. Driving it correctly will reduce wear and tear on the mechanisms and keep the bulldozer in good condition.

It goes without saying that a bulldozer is a heavy, powerful, and unwieldy piece of equipment, so a skilled operator will have to learn how to get a sense of its size and the space it occupies. When operating a bulldozer in an enclosed area, any mistake can be costly, leaving you stuck or causing damage to the machine or its surroundings. Mastering the proper amount of throttle to administer and gaining a good sense of the machine’s capabilities are major parts of being a dozer operator.

How To Become a Bulldozer Operator

Because operating heavy equipment requires so many unique skills, it’s critical to learn the trade from an experienced professional. Prospective heavy equipment operators should seek to learn their trade from people who have worked in the industry themselves for many years. This requires finding a good heavy equipment training school. The right school will have experienced instructors, as well as a good balance between classroom learning and all-important field experience.

If you live on the West Coast or have the ability to travel there, your best option for getting started on the path to becoming a bulldozer operator is West Coast Training. Boasting a highly experienced, professional team of instructors, classes are also held in beautiful Woodland, WA, a short drive from the Pacific Ocean. At West Coast Training, you’ll learn to operate not only bulldozers, but many other types of heavy equipment as well. The school will also assist you in finding work once your training is complete—you’ll get help with your resume, job search, and more—so that you can achieve your dream of becoming a heavy equipment operator.