Material Moving Machine Operators

by Kate Williams

What Material Moving Machine Operators Do

Material moving machine operators use machinery to transport various objects.

Work Environment

Most material moving machine operators work full time, and overtime for them is common. Because materials are shipped around the clock, some operators—especially those in warehousing—work overnight shifts.

How to Become a Material Moving Machine Operator

Education and training requirements vary by occupation. Crane operators and excavating machine operators usually have several years of experience in related occupations.


The median annual wage for material moving machine operators was $36,770 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of material moving machine operators is projected to grow 2 percent from 2019 to 2029, slower than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will vary by occupation.

Material moving machine operators use machinery to transport various objects. Some operators move construction materials around building sites or excavate earth from a mine. Others move goods around a warehouse or onto container ships.


Material moving machine operators typically do the following:

  • Set up and inspect material moving equipment
  • Control equipment with levers, wheels, or foot pedals
  • Move material according to a plan or schedule
  • Signal and direct workers to load, unload, and position materials
  • Keep a record of the material they move and where they move it to
  • Make minor repairs to their equipment

In warehouses, most material moving machine operators use forklifts and conveyor belts. Wireless sensors and tags are increasingly being used to keep track of merchandise, allowing operators to locate them faster. Some operators also check goods for damage. These operators usually work closely with hand laborers and material movers.

Many operators work for underground and surface mining companies. They help to dig or expose the mine, remove the earth and rock, and extract coal, ore, and other mined materials.

In construction, material moving machine operators remove earth to clear space for buildings. Some work on a building site for the entire length of the construction project. For example, certain material moving machine operators help to construct highrise buildings by transporting materials to workers who are far above ground level.

All material moving machine operators are responsible for the safe operation of their equipment or vehicle.

The following are examples of types of material moving machine operators:

Conveyor operators and tenders control conveyor systems that move materials on an automatic belt. They move materials to and from places such as storage areas, vehicles, and building sites. They monitor sensors on the conveyor to regulate the speed with which the conveyor belt moves. Operators also may check the shipping order and determine the route that materials take along a conveyor.

Crane and tower operators use tower and cable equipment to lift and move materials, machinery, or other heavy objects. From a control station, operators can extend and retract horizontal booms, rotate the superstructure, and lower and raise hooks attached to cables at the end of their crane or tower. Operators usually are guided by workers on the ground who use hand signals or who transmit voice signals through a radio. Most crane and tower operators work at construction sites or major ports, where they load and unload cargo. Some operators work in iron and steel mills.

Dredge operators excavate waterways. They operate equipment on the water to remove sand, gravel, or rock from harbors or lakes. Removing these materials helps to prevent erosion and maintain navigable waterways, and allows larger ships to use ports. Dredging also is used to help restore wetlands and maintain beaches.

Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators use machines equipped with scoops or shovels. They dig sand, earth, or other materials and load them onto conveyors or into trucks for transport elsewhere. They may also move material within a confined area, such as a construction site. Operators typically receive instructions from workers on the ground through hand signals or through voice signals transmitted by radio. Most of these operators work in construction or mining industries.

Hoist and winch operators, also called derrick operators, control the movement of platforms, cables, and cages that transport workers or materials in industrial operations, such as constructing a highrise building. Many of these operators raise platforms far above the ground. Operators regulate the speed of the equipment on the basis of the needs of the workers. Many work in manufacturing, mining, and quarrying industries.

Industrial truck and tractor operators drive trucks and tractors that move materials around warehouses, storage yards, or worksites. These trucks, often called forklifts, have a lifting mechanism and forks, which make them useful for moving heavy and large objects. Some industrial truck and tractor operators drive tractors that pull trailers loaded with material around factories or storage areas.

Underground mining loading machine operators load coal, ore, and other rocks onto shuttles, mine cars, or conveyors for transport from a mine to the surface. They may use power shovels, hoisting engines equipped with scrapers or scoops, and automatic gathering arms that move materials onto a conveyor. Operators also drive their machines farther into the mine in order to gather more material.

Material moving machine operators held about 761,400 jobs in 2019. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up material moving machine operators was distributed as follows:

Industrial truck and tractor operators 634,700
Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators, surface mining 46,100
Crane and tower operators 45,700
Conveyor operators and tenders 23,900
Hoist and winch operators 4,900
Loading and moving machine operators, underground mining 4,500
Dredge operators 1,600

The largest employers of material moving machine operators were as follows:

Warehousing and storage 25%
Wholesale trade 12
Temporary help services 8
Construction 7
Food manufacturing 6

Material moving machine operators work indoors and outdoors in a variety of industries.

Injuries and Illnesses

Some material moving machine operator jobs can be dangerous. For example, crane operators work outdoors at great heights in all types of weather.

Many workers wear personal protective equipment, including gloves, hardhats, harnesses, and respirators to guard against injury.

Work Schedules

Most material moving machine operators work full time, and overtime for them is common. Because materials are shipped around the clock, some operators—especially those in warehousing—work overnight shifts.

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of material moving machine operators.

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2019

Construction Equipment Operators

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

High school diploma or equivalent $48,160

Construction Laborers and Helpers

Construction laborers and helpers perform many tasks that require physical labor on construction sites.

See How to Become One $36,000

Delivery Truck Drivers and Driver/Sales Workers

Delivery truck drivers and driver/sales workers pick up, transport, and drop off packages and small shipments within a local region or urban area.

High school diploma or equivalent $32,020

Hand Laborers and Material Movers

Hand laborers and material movers manually move freight, stock, or other materials.

No formal educational credential $28,710

Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers

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

Postsecondary nondegree award $45,260

Railroad Workers

Workers in railroad occupations ensure that passenger and freight trains safely run on time. They may drive trains, coordinate the activities of the trains, or operate signals and switches in the rail yard.

High school diploma or equivalent $65,020

Water transportation occupations

Water Transportation Workers

Water transportation workers operate and maintain vessels that take cargo and people over water.

See How to Become One $57,330

For more information about careers as a material moving machine operator, visit


Warehousing Education and Research Council

International Union of Operating Engineers

National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators


Conveyor Operators and Tenders

Crane and Tower Operators

Dredge Operators

Excavating and Loading Machine and Dragline Operators

Hoist and Winch Operators

Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators

Loading Machine Operators, Underground Mining

Mine Shuttle Car Operators

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Material Moving Machine Operators,
at (visited ).

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