How To Become A Heavy Equipment Operator + Heavy Equipment Operator Jobs

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Table Of Contents

A heavy equipment operator might be a job you’re thinking about pursuing. The truth is, heavy equipment operator jobs are on the rise.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this job is expected to grow 5% between 2020 and 2030. This is an entry-level job that doesn’t require a specialized education with a median pay of around $48,000/year. Most jobs are available to high school graduates (or equivalent) with the addition of on-the-job training, vocational education/training, and/or completing an apprenticeship program.

If you are looking for a heavy equipment operator job, we recommend ZipRecruiter. ZipRecruiter is free for job seekers and you can apply for jobs with a single click!

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What Is A Heavy Equipment Operator?

A heavy equipment operator is someone who works with the operation of heavy equipment machines like bulldozers, cranes, backhoes, etc. Some heavy equipment operators specialize in the operation of one piece of equipment while others may be skilled enough to operate multiple types of machines.

Common positions include:

  • Bulldozer Operator
  • Backhoe Operator
  • Grader Operator
  • Side Boom Tractor operator

Heavy equipment operators usually work a full-time schedule, 40 hours per week with weekends off. They are working on construction sites outdoors with a team of other workers.

This job can be labor-intensive and you may work in harsh outdoor conditions but it can be a very fulfilling and rewarding position, working with others to build something from the ground up.

While this isn’t the most flexible position with average upward mobility (advancement opportunities), many workers in this career really enjoy what they do, choosing it over other professions, when given the chance.

Here’s how you can become a heavy equipment operator.

Related: Careers In Construction

Education, Training And Certification Requirements For Heavy Equipment Operators

While the path to becoming a heavy equipment operator does require skill and licensing (in some areas), a formal education, background, and specialized expertise is not required.

Step 1: Get a high school education or equivalent

Most or all jobs in heavy equipment operation require a high school degree or equivalent. If you’re not a high school graduate, the first step will be to obtain your G.E.D. or equivalent, before you can apply for jobs in this industry.

After you determine what type of education is needed, you may be ready to prepare your heavy equipment operator resume.

Step 2: Discover the job you want to work for, apply, and start training

Nearly every job will offer some type of training or apprentice program which will partner you with experts who will teach you the job.

On-the-job training and/or an apprentice program will show you how to operate equipment through experience and under supervision. Apprenticeships can last up to three to four years before you can become skilled enough to operate machinery independently without supervision.

Depending on where you live a CDL (commercial driver’s license) and certain certifications might be required.

Now that we’ve covered the steps to get started, let’s take a look at some of the best heavy equipment operator jobs in the industry.

7 Best Heavy Equipment Operator Jobs

Here are 7 of the best heavy equipment operator jobs hiring.

1. Backhoe Operator

Average Salary: $59,000 per year

Education Required: High school diploma or equivalent and need to carry a CDL (commercial driver’s license). Vocational training and apprenticeship is also a path you’ll take in addition to on-the-job training.

A Backhoe Operator works with the backhoe equipment on a construction site. A backhoe is a piece of excavation equipment that digs to remove soil from the ground. Your job will be to operate the backhoe and know how to do light maintenance on the equipment, as needed.

2. Rigger

Average Salary: $45,402 per year

Education Required: High school diploma or equivalent and certification

The role of a Rigger is to move and lift loads from one location to the next on a construction site using heavy machine equipment.

3. Yard Operator

Average Salary: $33,200 per year

Education Required: High school diploma or equivalent

A Yard Operator uses a hauler to load and haul materials at a construction site. You might operate equipment like a dump truck, forklift, excavation machine, loader, or other heavy machine equipment.

The qualifications to become a Yard Operator are:

  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Be able to lift at least 50 pounds

4. Crane Operator

Average Salary: $62,490 per year

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Education Required: High school diploma or equivalent

A Crane Operator operates a mobile crane. Cranes lift, move, and position different materials. The operator is responsible for managing that piece of equipment.

Crane operators need a high school diploma or equivalent. Then, you’ll need to complete crane operator training and go through an apprenticeship.

5. Motor Grade Operator

Average Salary: $45,704 per year

Education Required: High school diploma or equivalent

A Motor Grade Operator operates a motor grader which is equipment that spreads, levels and finishes dirt and gravel so it’s smooth and even. You will work at road and construction sites using the grading machine to lay gravel material to pave surfaces like roads and streets.

To work as a Motor Grade Operator, you’ll need a high school diploma or equivalent. You should be physically fit and able to lift at least 50 to 90 pounds.

6. Winch Truck Driver

Average Salary: $43,350 per year

Education Required: High school diploma or equivalent

A Winch Truck Driver operates a Winch Truck. A Winch Truck is a commercial vehicle truck that has a winch that can load and move frac tanks as well as other heavy cargo.

A Winch Truck Driver drives this kind of commercial vehicle to load and unload cargo, as needed. They’re also responsible for keeping a logbook, maintaining the truck and equipment, and other duties.

You will need to have:

  • A high school diploma or equivalent
  • A CDL (commercial driver’s license)

There may be age requirements as well, depending on your area.

7. Construction Equipment Operator

Average Salary: $48,290 per year

Education Required: High school diploma or similar, a CDL, and being in good physical health

Construction equipment operators drive the equipment needed to construct buildings and structures.

In short, you’ll be responsible for operating many types of equipment used on construction sites like:

  • Forklifts
  • Dump trucks
  • Backhoes
  • Graders

This job will work outdoors on construction sites even in less favorable weather conditions including some nights.

Where To Find Heavy Equipment Operator Jobs

Here are the best places to find heavy equipment operator jobs. Before you start applying, make sure your construction resume is ready to go! If you need extra help, check out our guide to the best resume writing services.


ZipRecruiter is a top job search engine to find jobs hiring near you. Use ZipRecruiter’s easy-to-use job search to filter the job results by title, keyword, and location to find the right heavy equipment operator position you’re looking for.

For more information, check out our ZipRecruiter review.

get started with ziprecruiter


Indeed is a job search engine where you can search for thousands of different jobs including heavy equipment operator jobs. You can search by keyword, job title, and location to find the right job in this industry for you.

For more information, check out our Indeed review.

Simply Hired

Simply Hired’s job search engine lets you look for U.S. jobs in various industries including heavy equipment operations. There are several filters to choose from including location, employer, job category, and more, to save you time and turn up specific jobs in your search.

Related: Highest Paying Construction Jobs

Heavy Equipment Operator Skills

Heavy equipment operators are working with heavy equipment machines independently and in a team setting. This is a skilled trade position that can take up to several years to master and work without supervision.

The skills required for heavy equipment operators to excel in this position are:

  • Excellent communication skills: working with others is a critical part of this job so having strong communication and interpersonal skills is essential.
  • Team player: you will be working with peers on the construction site so the ability to work with others well, is a soft skill you’ll need.
  • Good physical condition: you’ll be working on a construction site in the outdoors, on your feet for part or all of the time, and possibly lifting heavy objects so maintaining good physical fitness will be helpful (and required for some positions).
  • Hand and foot coordination: working with machines, you will need to coordinate your hand and foot movements to operate some equipment.
  • Critical thinking: being able to identify and solve problems on the spot will be an essential skill needed in the field.
  • Machine operation: having the skills and knowledge to operate machines, which will improve over time through on-the-job training and experience.
  • Troubleshooting: spotting and resolving issues that arise.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which heavy equipment operators make the most money?

Some of the highest-paid heavy equipment operators include:

  • Crane Operators
  • Rigger
  • Yard Manager
  • Motor Grade Operator
  • Back Hoe Operator

What skills do you need to be a heavy equipment operator?

The skills needed for heavy equipment operation include:

  • Knowledge and experience in light and heavy equipment operation and maintenance
  • Communication skills and the ability to work well with others in a team setting
  • Hand and foot coordination
  • Troubleshooting and critical thinking skills
  • Good physical condition

What is another name for heavy equipment operators?

Another name for heavy equipment operators is equipment operator or heavy machine operator.

Is being a heavy equipment operator hard on your body?

Being in good physical fitness is helpful in this kind of job since you’ll be working on your feet for part or all of the time, outdoors at a construction site and your work may involve lifting heavy objects.

Some equipment can be particularly harsh on parts of your body. For example, off-road heavy machine equipment can cause neck and back injuries.

The Bottom Line

If you have any question about how to become a heavy equipment operator, we hope this guide proved helpful. To start your job search for heavy equipment operator jobs in your area, visit ZipRecruiter to get started.