Most heavy equipment operators receive training in the following ways:
- Training from an construction equipment apprenticeship program
- Learning on on the job
- Learning from a paid heavy equipment operators training program
- or a combination of these
Operators who have a background or understanding of automobile mechanics, science, basic mechanics, and mechanical drawing, GPS, and computers have are generally favored over other applicants.
Apprenticeship programs or learning on the job usually has the trainee start off on light equipment with a supervisor to learn the basic controls. Later they will gradually start operating heavier equipment such as bulldozers, excavators, and dump trucks. Computerized controls and improved hydraulics make these machines more difficult to operate.
Those who follow formal training through a paid heavy equipment training program or apprenticeship are more marketable in the job market because of their comprehensive skill training and being familiar with a wider variety of equipment.
A formal operating engineer apprenticeship administered by the International Union of Operating Engineers is a great way to learn. Apprenticeship usually lasts 3 years or 6,000 hours of paid on the job training together with 144 hours of classroom instruction.
Private vocational schools offer instruction in the operation of certain types
of equipment and can be a great way to have proof of specialization on some of the less common equipment, such as cranes and pile drivers. Those who attend a training school have seen better results when finding a job. A good strategy would be to contact your local union and ask for a recommendation of a school. Some schools offer computer simulations to help improve your coordination before you move out onto the actual equipment.
Some additional qualifications needed to be a heavy equipment operator include:
- Good health and physical condition
- Good judgement of distance
- Great eye hand foot coordination
- Able to work at heights
- Problem solver
- Mechanically minded
- Ability to work in harsh weather conditions
- Past experience running tractors, military is a benefit.