Bulldozer, Grader, or Paving Machine Operator
Bulldozer, Grader, or Paving Machine Operator
Education and Training: High school and training
Salary: Varies—see profile
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Operators of bulldozers, graders, paving machines, and other heavy equipment work at many kinds of building sites. Operators use bulldozers, backhoes, and tractors for moving large amounts of dirt. They use graders, scrapers, and tamping machines to smooth and stabilize dirt and gravel in a roadbed. They use asphalt paving machines and concrete paving machines to make highway surfaces smooth. The operators usually know a great deal about different machines and different kinds of construction. Operators are sometimes called operating engineers.
Operators sit in the cabs of the machines, controlling the machinery with pedals and levers. To run any construction machine, operating engineers must be able to judge spaces correctly and handle many controls at the same time.
Many bulldozer, grader, and paving machine operators work at the construction sites of highways, tunnels, high-rise buildings, and airports. Others have regular jobs in factories, steel mills, and mines.
Education and Training Requirements
Operators of some heavy equipment are trained on the job. They start work on smaller machines and, after proving their skills, get to work on larger equipment. However, many employers prefer to hire operators who have successfully completed an apprenticeship program. The apprenticeship combines at least three years of on-the-job training with at least 144 hours of classroom instruction each year. Apprentices learn how several machines work and how to operate and repair them. They learn about different kinds of oils and greases, how to weld and cut materials, and how to read plans. Much of the training emphasizes industry standards for safety.
The apprenticeship programs are administered through a joint effort of the Associated General Contractors of America and the International Union of Operating Engineers. Applicants for apprenticeship programs must have a high school diploma or its equivalent and be at least eighteen years old. They must also be in top physical condition and have good hand-eye coordination. The ability to work as part of a team is very important.
Some vocational, technical, and trade schools offer courses in operating construction equipment. However, the programs do not have uniform standards. Job seekers should consult contractors or trade unions to make sure such a program will provide good credentials for employment.
High school classes in automobile mechanics, electronics, science, and mechanical drawing are good preparation for work on any kind of construction machinery.
Getting the Job
Serving as a helper for an equipment repair worker is a good way to learn about the trade. Applicants who already know how to use farm equipment might get a job operating simple construction machinery. The best way to enter the trade is through an apprenticeship program. Local contractors and unions have information about such programs and about job openings. State employment offices, newspaper classified ad sections, and job banks on the Internet are other sources of job information.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Experienced operators may become supervisors. Some buy their own equipment and start contracting businesses.
The job outlook for these trade workers is good. Employment is expected to increase as fast as the average for all jobs through 2014. Projected increases in spending to build and replace highways and bridges, for example, will require the work of bulldozer, grader, and paving machine operators. The work can be seasonal and depends on the health of the economy as a whole.
Generally, operating engineers work with more regularity during the summer than in the winter. Rain or snow causes a good deal of lost work time. Operators work in very cold as well as warm weather. They do not have clean jobs—operators expect to get dirty, dusty, and greasy. Physical stamina is an important asset because the bucking, jolting, vibrating, and noise of the machines can be tiring. Operators generally work forty hours a week. Because some construction projects, such as highway construction, operate around the clock and on weekends, some workers have irregular hours, with overtime pay for hours in excess of forty per week. Many equipment operators belong to labor unions.
Earnings and Benefits
The median income of these trade workers in 2004 ranged from $13.52 to $19.20 per hour. Earnings for qualified workers varied according to location and the nature of the work. Street paving, for instance, paid less than bridge construction. Take-home pay was affected by loss of work because of bad weather. Apprentices start at fifty to seventy percent of the qualified craft worker's hourly wage. Their pay is increased as they progress through training.
Where to Go for More Information
International Union of Operating Engineers
1125 Seventeenth St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
Associated General Contractors of America
2300 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 400
Arlington, VA 22201
U.S. Department of Labor
Office of Apprenticeship Training, Employer and Labor Services
200 Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20210
Union workers generally receive paid holidays, life insurance, and hospitalization and pension plans. The number of vacation days they receive depends on the number of days they work each year.