Construction Equipment Mechanic
Construction Equipment Mechanic
Education and Training: On-the-job training or trade school
Salary: Median—$18.34 per hour
Employment Outlook: Fair
Definition and Nature of the Work
Construction equipment mechanics repair and service many kinds of machines, including bulldozers, earthmovers, tractors, paving machines, pile drivers, cranes, and concrete mixers. A mechanic's job is very important because a broken machine can slow down or even stop construction work.
Many construction machines are powered by engines that use diesel fuel, rather than gasoline, and which require special training to repair. When an engine develops problems, a mechanic tests it to find the source of the trouble. Once the problem has been identified, the mechanic repairs or replaces the broken part or makes the needed adjustments. This work is done either at the job site or in a repair shop.
Mechanics also do routine maintenance, regularly inspecting and adjusting machines. Often they apply oil, tighten bolts, and replace parts before they wear out. Other duties may include working on a machine's brake and steering systems or repairing various controls.
Construction equipment mechanics use screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, and a variety of power tools. Power hoists and small cranes may also be used for moving heavy equipment.
Education and Training Requirements
There are different ways to learn about construction equipment, and mechanics often learn through a combination of work experience and classroom instruction. Many mechanics begin by working in automobile repair shops, where working on gasoline-powered car engines and other automobile systems provides good background. Others begin by taking courses at trade schools to learn to repair diesel engines and other equipment. Still others begin by working as trainees for construction companies.
Perhaps the best way to become a construction equipment mechanic is through a formal apprenticeship program, which takes about three years. Apprentices are trained to repair and maintain universal equipment, such as hoists, shovels, cranes, grading and paving equipment, and plant equipment, such as mixing and crushing machines. The apprentice also receives at least 144 hours of classroom instruction each year. Apprenticeships are administered by the construction-related labor unions. For most of these programs, applicants must be eighteen years old and have a high school diploma or its equivalent. Applicants may have to pass a test and be approved by a joint labor-management committee.
Workers in this field must be able to use many different tools, read and understand diagrams, and be mechanically inclined. They should also be in good physical condition, because they often have to lift heavy equipment. They should be able to work well with others.
Getting the Job
All beginning jobs in this field are trainee positions. Apprenticeships generally provide the best on-the-job training. Local construction firms and union offices have information about apprenticeship programs. The placement offices of vocational and technical schools often have information about job openings. Other sources include union offices, construction firms, building contractors, excavating contractors, and equipment suppliers. State employment offices, newspaper classified ads, and job banks on the Internet can also provide job leads.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
A mechanic with sufficient technical expertise and experience can advance to the position of lead operator, who is in charge of a work crew, or can become a supervisor. Mechanics can also learn to operate the machines used at construction sites. Equipment operators earn slightly more than mechanics.
The need for mechanics is directly related to the number of construction projects, which depends on the strength of the economy. Jobs for construction equipment mechanics are expected to grow more slowly than the average for all jobs through 2014. The best opportunities will be for those with formal training.
Mechanics work outdoors and may have to inspect and repair equipment when the weather is very hot or very cold. Because construction sites are usually dirty and noisy, they often wear special ear protection, goggles, and other safety gear. Working in a repair shop is usually more comfortable, but even repair shops can be dirty and noisy, and heating, cooling, and ventilation can be problems. Mechanics handle greasy tools and have to work in cramped positions for long periods of time.
A five-day, forty-hour week is typical. However, if the weather is bad, construction crews may not be able to work. Sometimes mechanics must work at night or on weekends to make necessary repairs. A higher wage is usually paid for weekend and overtime work.
Where to Go for More Information
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
9000 Machinists Pl.
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772-2687
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
Associated Builders and Contractors
4250 North Fairfax Dr., Ninth Fl.
Arlington, VA 22203-1607
U.S. Department of Labor
Office of Apprenticeship Training, Employer and Labor Services
200 Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20210
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings for construction equipment mechanics vary, depending on the location of the work. The median wage in 2004 was $18.34 per hour. Federal and local governments paid the highest wages. Construction equipment mechanics may receive benefits, such as paid vacations, health and life insurance, and pension plans, based on union contracts.