How to Become a Heavy Equipment Operator

Many children dream about working on a building site or working with heavy machinery. Using large tools to create huge structures holds a certain appeal for many people. The job is great for those who enjoy raw power and mechanical strength, but who also like to be careful and controlled in their actions.

What can a heavy equipment operator do?

Construction equipment and heavy plant which may be controlled by a heavy equipment operator includes; drilling machines, backhoes, scrapers, loaders, bulldozers, power shovels, excavators, road rollers, tippers, forklifts and cranes. A heavy equipment operator can also work in a lot of different industries, because large machinery is required in a number of different trades, including; mining, fisheries, forestry, logging, construction and road building.

What skills might you need?

Both men and women can become heavy equipment operators. Potential operators must be at least 18 years old before they start their formal machinery training. An operator must hold a valid commercial driver’s license. In order to get a commercial driver’s licence, the applicant must meet minimum health requirement.

A heavy equipment operator must be able to understand and follow instructions, because they will be required to understand and follow a lot of Health and Safety rules as part of their role. As they will be expected to work with potentially dangerous equipment, the candidate must be safety conscious and willing to take responsibility for their own actions. Although a heavy equipment operator may be required to work independently, they must also be able to communicate well with those around them. Great communication skills help to mitigate risks around the heavy equipment.

Physically, an operator should have a high level of strength and stamina. Good hand-eye coordination and reflexes will help the candidate to control their equipment properly. Excellent finger dexterity is needed for machinery that operates with sensitive controls. An operator should have strong manual and technical skills.

Most heavy equipment operation takes place in the outdoors. The job is ideal for people who like to remain active and stay outdoors. It is possible that machine handlers will be expected to continue working outdoors whatever the weather. An operator should be able to understand how the weather might affect the piece of machinery which they are controlling.

Getting into heavy equipment

Many people who go on to become heavy equipment operators will have done basic tasks in their chosen industry before progressing on to machinery operation. This basic experience helps the candidate to understand the different ways that heavy equipment can be used in their industry of choice. However, it is possible to go straight into a heavy equipment handler’s course without any prior experience of the field.

In order to operate most types of heavy equipment, the candidate must normally gain a Certificate of Qualification in that particular type of equipment. These qualifications are tailored to the individual piece of heavy equipment, because most pieces of equipment have very different functionality. Certificates of Qualification are not normally portable, so a person with a Tower Crane Endorsement is not automatically qualified to use a 360 excavator.

Short courses are available from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) to help people to gain these qualifications quickly. CITB qualifications also aim to help to standardise machine handling practices amongst heavy machine operators. These courses usually involve a mixture of desk-based learning and practical machine handling skills. Some people are also able to gain their Certificate of Qualification via an apprenticeship scheme. Apprentices are required to complete a minimum number of supervised handling hours before they are permitted to use equipment without a supervisor.

Hours of Work

Although some heavy equipment operators are contracted to work for one specific firm, many people in the industry are classified as self-employed. This means that some heavy machine operators can end up working for more than 40 hours per week whilst they are on a job, and then experience other periods where there is no work at all. Heavy machinery operation in the construction industry, mining, forestry and fisheries tends to be more seasonal, and some people may struggle to find work during the winter months. However, there is normally plenty of overtime available during the summertime.