What Is an Equipment Operator?

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Learn more about experience requirements, the work environment, and advancement opportunities.

Alternate Titles

Heavy Construction Equipment Operator, Operating Engineer, Heavy Equipment Operator, Forklift Operator, Motor Grader Operator

Apprenticeships

Equipment Operator is an approved occupation for a Registered Apprenticeship through the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). These apprenticeships typically last two to three years. Visit the DOL website to learn more about the apprenticeship.

Education

A high school diploma, GED, or equivalent is preferred, but not necessary. To become an Equipment Operator, individuals may: 

  • Complete a Registered Apprenticeship Program.
  • Complete an equipment operation certificate or degree program.
  • Choose a combination of on-the-job learning and self-study.

Experience

Most employers want three to five years of construction experience. 

Salary Range

$52,000–$60,000/year1

Equipment Operators are responsible for operating various types of construction equipment used in commercial and utility-scale energy projects. Equipment Operators operate heavy equipment such as scrapers, excavators, pile drivers, graders, forklifts, bulldozers, loaders, and skid steers to move large amounts of concrete, dirt, or other materials within the job site. They inspect and sometimes maintain the equipment they are working on, remove debris and other materials from job sites to avoid hazards, and communicate efficiently with the rest of the construction team to ensure safety.

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A Day in the Life

A typical day for an Equipment Operator may include:

  • Reading site plans to determine the scope of work for the day.
  • Using heavy equipment, such as a loader, to move large amounts of dirt within the job site.
  • Inspecting construction equipment to make sure it adheres to safety standards. 

The Job

As an Equipment Operator, daily tasks may include:

  • Interact with clients and study plans, details, and diagrams to understand the scope of the work. 
  • Learn how to operate all equipment safely and take action to avoid potential hazards or obstructions on the work site. 
  • Use heavy equipment to move large amounts of concrete, dirt, or other materials, such as pallets of solar panels, within the job site. Inspect and sometimes maintain the equipment.
  • Engage in physically demanding work, including climbing into large construction machinery, lifting heavy objects, and working in a variety of weather conditions. May be required to sit and operate heavy machinery for long periods of time. 
  • Follow and monitor operations to follow safety regulations and make sure health standards are met. Communicate efficiently with the rest of the construction team to ensure safety.

Career Pathways and Advancement

There is a wide array of advancement opportunities for Equipment Operators based on their interests. Equipment Operators who want more leadership responsibilities can advance into a Site Supervisor or Fleet Manager position. Equipment Operators can also advance into an Engineering Technician position with additional education and engineering training.

For more information about career advancement opportunities and paths, visit the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) Solar Career Map.  

High-Demand Job

Within the rapidly growing renewable energy industry, there is a huge demand for Equipment Operators to operate construction equipment used to build projects. As the need for Equipment Operators increases, there is more job security, opportunities for competitive pay, and a wide array of employers.

Work Environment

Equipment operators are typically working outdoors on a construction site. Equipment will offer protection from the elements and climate control functions, but Equipment Operators must be prepared to work in all types of weather conditions. They will engage in physically demanding work, including climbing into large construction machinery, lifting heavy objects, and working in a variety of weather conditions.

Certification and Licensing

Depending on the state and the employer, some Equipment Operators may need to obtain a license to operate certain types of equipment—or to operate equipment above a certain weight class. Based on the state, individuals will need to reach a certain amount of hours of work experience before they are eligible to take a licensing exam. 

Other certifications, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 10-hour or 30-hour certification, may also be required or recommended. Equipment-specific certifications can help to identify specific areas of knowledge. Individuals may need a commercial driver’s license or heavy equipment operator license. 

Tips for Entry

To prepare for a career as an Equipment Operator, consider taking courses in construction, engineering, or manufacturing. Consider obtaining an OSHA 10-hour or 30-hour certification to become a competitive candidate. To get a foot in the door, consider applying for entry-level positions at construction or manufacturing companies that have Equipment Operator positions or apprenticeships. 

Professional Groups / Associations

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  1. Wage data is based on information in the IREC solar career map. Information on the methodology can be found here.