Highway, road, bridge and building construction has dramatically increased in the past few years and is expected to continue to do so, although at a somewhat slower pace. Still, it is estimated that construction equipment operation jobs will increase 26 percent between 2010 and 2020, faster than the average job growth overall, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the United States Department of Labor.
According to salary.com, salaries in this field range from the high $40,000s to about $70,000 nationally. You can go on the site and put in your ZIP code to see what the salary would be for your local area.
To get an idea of what’s involved in these types of jobs, you might want to visit Caterpillar University, operated by the company that makes the machinery used on many construction sites. It offers scores of courses, some free and some not, on a variety of subjects including operating backhoe loaders, hydraulic excavators and track-type tractors, among others. The videos on the sight might give you a better idea of what’s involved in operating heavy equipment and help you decide if that’s the type of work you’d like to do.
Once you decide it is a job you would enjoy, there are a variety of ways to prepare for and get work in this field. One is to get hired and be trained on the job, although this is rather unusual.
Another is through the International Union of Operating Engineers, which operates 95 apprenticeship and training programs through its local unions across the U.S. and Canada. The union’s paid apprenticeship program lasts three to four years and offers classroom instruction, as well as hands-on experience operating such heavy equipment as cranes, excavators and directional boring and motor graders.
There are also private schools scattered around the country that teach heavy equipment operations and grant certificates, but they can be quite expensive. The Georgia College of Construction in Conyers, Ga., for example, offers three levels of courses, each three weeks long, that teach the operation of bulldozers, backhoes, front loaders, excavators and large hydraulic cranes.
It has its own certification program, as well as certification through the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators. Each three-week program costs $8995, and according to Daryl Wodrum, the school’s president, there is job placement through the National Association of Heavy Equipment Training Services, the organization that owns the school and two others.
A more economical option is to enroll in one of the community colleges that have programs in heavy equipment operation, some of which are in conjunction with union apprenticeships. Here are a few examples:
Flathead Valley Community College, Libby, Montana – A year-long program that provides hands-on experience in the operation and maintenance of a wide variety of types of heavy equipment.
San Diego City College, San Diego, Calif. – This is one of the college’s many programs that are offered only to students who are enrolled in an apprenticeship program. It teaches machinery operation, safety procedures and knowledge of soils for those operating dump trucks and tractors.
Community College of Allegheny County, various campuses in Allegheny County, Penn. – This is another apprenticeship-related program.
Stanly Community College, Albemarle, N.C. – This college’s two-semester program, featuring hands-on experience, as well as simulation training, leads to an opportunity to receive National Center for Construction Education and Research certification in several areas.
Southern Louisiana Community College, various campuses – This program teaches students to operate a variety of equipment and includes a required course in job seeking skills.
Southern Maine Community College, South Portland, Me. – This certificate program prepares graduates to work in a variety of settings, including county, state and interstate highway construction; airport development; agricultural construction; and commercial and residential construction.
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