Construction Equipment Operators

What Construction Equipment Operators Do

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

Work Environment

Construction equipment operators may work even in unpleasant weather. Most operators work full time, and some have irregular work schedules that include nights.

How to Become a Construction Equipment Operator

Many workers learn how to operate construction equipment on the job after earning a high school diploma or equivalent; others learn through an apprenticeship or by attending vocational schools.

Pay

The median annual wage for construction equipment operators was $48,160 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of construction equipment operators is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

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.

Construction equipment operators held about 468,300 jobs in 2019. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up construction equipment operators was distributed as follows:

Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators 418,000
Paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators 46,600
Pile driver operators 3,600

The largest employers of construction equipment operators were as follows:

Heavy and civil engineering construction 30%
Specialty trade contractors 28
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 13
Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction 6
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.

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 2019

Material Moving Machine Operators

Material moving machine operators use machinery to transport various objects.

See How to Become One $36,770

Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers transport goods from one location to another.

Postsecondary nondegree award $45,260

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 $71,160

Agricultural Workers

Agricultural workers maintain crops and tend to livestock.

See How to Become One $25,840

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

O*NET

Operating Engineers and Other Construction Equipment Operators

Paving, Surfacing, and Tamping Equipment Operators

Pile-Driver Operators


Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Construction Equipment Operators,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/construction-equipment-operators.htm (visited ).