Heavy Equipment Operator

Is a career as a Heavy Equipment Operator right for you?
Here are some things to consider before you decide:

  • Heavy Equipment Operators are in the top 5 most in-demand trades in Construction year after year.
  • To get started, you must be licensed, but most programs are only a few weeks.
  • Once licensed, you can expect to start earning $23 an hour or $47,840 a year plus overtime and benefits. There is also great opportunity for overtime which greatly increases your pay.
  • The right personality type to become a Heavy Equipment Operator is someone who is:
    • Self-Motivated
    • A Quick Learner
    • Focus and Attention to Detail
    • Respect for Safety

The Career Journey

Get Licensed

  • Must have a GED or HS Diploma
  • There are a number of certifications that can be achieved to operate heavy machinery, but the one license that is typically required for all machines is a Commercial Driver’s License. There are a number of programs in which you can receive this license in a few weeks.
  • On-the-Job Training or Trade School Programs are pathways to certification and licenses. Post-Secondary schooling is not a requirement for the HEO career path.
  • Average length of a program varies widely, some being 12 days to 1 year long, however, most are 8-12 weeks and will provide you with a CDL license in addition to other certifications.
  • The cost of an HEO program can range from $100s to $1,000s. When vetting a program and its cost, determine which certifications you will receive upon graduation and which type of equipment you will be qualified to operate.
  • Skills you will learn: Safety Requirements, Operation of Dozers, Backhoes, Excavators, and other Earthmoving Machinery. Additionally, some program offer training in Mobile Crane Operation, Tower Cranes, Rigging Loads, Signaling, and Advanced Lifting Tasks.

Learn on the Job

  • With most HEO programs being a matter of days or weeks, most learning will take place on the job site.
  • Anyone choosing this career must be willing to be patient and ready to learn from more experienced operators.
  • There are many paths within the Heavy Equipment industry, similar to a musician choosing their instrument, an Operator should be open to learning about all earth moving and heavy lifting equipment before choosing their desired specialty.

Receive Advanced Certifications

  • OSHA Crane & Derricks
  • Certificate Advanced Heavy Equipment Operator
  • EPRI Industrial Rigging
  • NCCCO Advanced Certifications (View them all here)
  • Once you begin to receive advanced certifications and license, you will likely be able to make $34.75/hour or $72,280 a year.

Career Paths within the Trade

Crane Operator

Pile Driver Operator

Digging Derrick Operator

Concrete Pump Operator

Telehandler Operator


Crane Inspector

Lift Director

Over the Road Truck Driver

Featured Story:

From Trauma to Triumph: One Woman’s Journey to Becoming a Cat® Equipment Operator

Kathy Tuccaro is one of the few female heavy equipment operators working in the Canadian oil sands – and it’s a job that literally changed her life. Her life story isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s one she wants you to hear.