How to Become a Heavy Equipment Operator: The Definitive Guide

How to Become a Heavy Equipment Operator: The Definitive Guide
Last updated at September 2, 2021

Many schools offer training on how to become a heavy equipment operator. Technical schools and colleges in your community can provide the programs needed to become a licensed heavy equipment operator. A heavy equipment operator school has programs that a student may complete in a few months while others may take a few years to finish.

How long your schooling takes all depends on the level of training. Some schools also provide an apprenticeship. You will have to decide what type of training and how much time you can put into it.

How to Become a Heavy Equipment Operator

Most schools offer hands-on training, instruction in safety, and also first aid. What you need to know is there are different ways to obtain a CDL or commercial driver’s license. A CDL is a must for operating certain types of equipment. Below are a few of the types of equipment where a CDL is needed:

  • Crane Operators
  • Truck Drivers moving equipment from site to site

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), is a unit of the government that makes the requirements for operating heavy equipment. The FMCSA rules demand any crane operator must have a CDL license.

A person who repairs heavy equipment does not have to have a license but may apply for voluntary certification from a manufacturer. Some techs choose to since they sometimes have to drive the equipment to make sure of its safety, and it is running in top condition.

Some employers demand a mechanic has the CDL upon employment. Having a CDL may ensure a higher rate of pay.

What Types of Equipment Do Not Require a CDL Licensed Operator?

While it varies by state, there are particular types of equipment an operator can move and operate without a CDL license. A few of these are:

  • Backhoes
  • Bulldozers
  • Tractors
  • Excavators

Heavy Equipment Operator Salary

The BLS expects jobs in the heavy equipment operator category to increase up to 10% by 2024. Crane operators should increase up to 16% in the next few years.

The average salary for a crane operator is around $56,000 and can go up to around $63,000. The lowest 10 percent of heavy equipment operators make about $29, 710 while the top 10 percent of heavy equipment operators can make about $81,640.

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Heavy Equipment Operator School

There are quite a few schools in the country. Here are a few to consider.

Schuylkill Technology Center – Offers a Heavy Equipment Training Program in Frackville, Pa

  • Program Name: Heavy Equipment Operator Training
  • Ten Week Program
  • Tuition cost: $9,335
  • Type of Program: 2 year
  • Address: 101 Technology Drive, Frackville, PA 17931
  • Phone: 570-874-1034 Extension 4880

Some of the things you will learn in this program are how to use vibrating rollers, dozers, and loaders, along with hydraulic excavators and backhoes. Reading blueprints is vital to this type of job, and there will be a course in blueprint reading. You will learn how to use piping, trenching, building layouts, laser leveling, and site surveying. OSHA is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and you will learn safety hazards and first aid, along with a CPR training course.

Pennsylvania College of Technology – Heavy Equipment Associate Degree Program in Williamsport, Pa.

  • Program name: Associate of Applied Science in Heavy Construction Equipment Technology
  • Field of study: Caterpillar Equipment, Operator, Technician
  • Program length: 2 years
  • Tuition: $14,370 a year for a PA resident; 18,000 per year for an out-of-state person
  • School Type: 4 year
  • One College Avenue, Williamsport, PA 17701
  • Phone: 570-326-3761

This program is a degree that will enable a graduate to find a position as a heavy equipment operator, technician, dealership tech, or even a sales representative. Caterpillar has an internship for both operator and technician. A must for this degree is a supply of tools. There are some higher specialty tools the school will provide, also.

Greater Johnstown Career & Technology Center – Heavy Equipment Diploma Program in Johnstown, Pa.

  • Program Name: Mobile Equipment Operations Technology Diploma
  • Program Length: 6 months
  • Tuition: $11,550
  • Type of School: 2 years, public
  • Address: 445 Schoolhouse Road, Johnstown, PA 15904
  • Phone: 814-266-6073

For those who want a more affordable program and finish their schooling in less than a year, this program can be completed in six months. Teaching you about the operations of heavy equipment that includes backhoes, dump trucks, wheeled loaders, skid loaders, graders, track excavators, and more. Hands-on training is the main learning source as well as observation and lectures.

How Do Heavy Equipment Operators Compare To Other Jobs

According to BLS, the jobs researched for this study show that the average heavy equipment operator and mechanic earn around $64,000 annually. Compared to operating engineers and other construction equipment operators, they make about three thousand dollars more on average.

Painters and transportation equipment make about $50,000 on average and truck drivers, both heavy and a tractor-trailer, make an average of about $60,000 compared to heavy equipment operators.

Any career as a heavy equipment operator has so many opportunities with higher than average pay rates and the benefit of local schools throughout the state to be able to commute as you learn the certifications and degrees needed to operate heavy equipment. This is an above-average job opportunity, and the schools listed above have all the information to make an informed decision.

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Heavy Equipment Operator?

It can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $15,000 depending on the program you’re enrolling in or the apprenticeship you’re hoping to get.

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