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Material moving equipment operators use machinery to move construction materials, manufactured goods, earth, logs, petroleum products, grain, coal, and other heavy materials. Generally they move materials over short distancesaround a construction site, factory, warehouse, or on or off trucks and ships. Operators control equipment by moving levers or foot pedals, operating switches, or turning dials. They may also set up and inspect equipment and make adjustments and minor repairs.
Material moving equipment operators usually are classified by the type of machines they operate. Those who operate bulldozers, cranes, loaders, and similar equipment are often called construction equipment operators even though they work in the mining, logging, utilities, and other industries as well as the construction industry. Others operate industrial trucks and tractors and similar equipment in manufacturing plants and warehouses. Some operate many kinds of equipment; others only one.
Crane and tower operators lift and move materials, machinery, or other heavy objects using mechanical or hydraulic booms and tower and cable equipment. Although some cranes are used on construction sites, most are used in manufacturing and other industries.
Excavation and loading machine operators run and tend machinery equipped with scoops, shovels, or buckets to excavate earth at construction sites and to load and move loose materials, mainly in the construction and mining industries.
Grader, dozer, and scraper operators remove, distribute, level, and grade earth with vehicles equipped with blades. In addition to the familiar bulldozers, they operate trench excavators, road graders, and similar equipment. Although many work in the construction industry, grader, dozer, and scraper operators also work for State and local governments, mainly in maintenance and repair work.
Hoist and winch operators lift and pull loads by using power-operated equipment. Most work in loading operations in construction, manufacturing, logging, transportation and public utilities, and mining.
Operating engineers are qualified to operate more than one type of the construction equipment discussed above. Although the term operating engineer often is applied to many construction equipment operators, many work for State and local governments.
Industrial truck and tractor operators drive and control industrial trucks or tractors. A typical industrial truck, often called a forklift or lift truck, has a hydraulic lifting mechanism and forks. Industrial truck operators use these to carry loads on a skid or pallet around a factory or warehouse. Industrial tractor operators pull trailers loaded with materials, goods, or equipment within factories and warehouses, or around outdoor storage areas.
Other material moving equipment operators tend air compressors or pumps at construction sites. Some operate oil or natural gas pumps and compressors at oil and gas wells and on oil and gas pipelines, and others operate ship loading and unloading equipment, conveyors, hoists, and other kinds of specialized material handling equipment such as mine or railroad tank car unloading equipment.
Material moving equipment operators may keep records of materials moved, and do some manual loading and unloading. They also may clean, fuel, and service their equipment.
Many material moving equipment operators work outdoors, in hot and cold weather, and sometimes in rain or snow. Industrial truck and tractor operators work mainly indoors, in warehouses or manufacturing plants. Some machines, particularly bulldozers and scrapers, are noisy and shake or jolt the operator. To avoid injury while operating an industrial truck, operators must take care to avoid roll-overs, collisions, and other accidents as well as protect materials and equipment from damage. While operating a bulldozer, care must be taken to keep it from overturning on a steep slope. However, these jobs have become much safer with the adoption of overhead guards on forklift trucks and roll bars on construction machinery. As with most machinery, most accidents can be avoided when proper operating procedures and safety practices are observed.
Material moving equipment operators held nearly 1,061,000 jobs in 1994. They were distributed among the detailed occupations of this group as follows:
Industrial truck and tractor operators 464,000 Operating engineers 146,000 Grader, dozer, and scraper operators 108,000 Excavation and loading machine operators 88,000 Crane and tower operators 45,000 Hoist and winch operators 9,000 All other material moving equipment operators 201,000The largest proportionone-thirdof material moving equipment operators worked in manufacturing; most of these were industrial truck and tractor operators. More than one-fifth worked in the construction industry. Significant numbers also worked in State and local governments and in the trucking and warehousing, wholesale trade, and mining industries. A few material moving equipment operators were self-employed.
Material moving equipment operators work in every section of the country. Some work in remote locations on large construction projects, such as highways and dams, or in factory or mining operations.
Operation of material moving equipment is usually learned on the job. Operators need a good sense of balance, the ability to judge distance, and good eye-hand-foot coordination. Employers of material moving equipment operators prefer to hire high school graduates, although, for some equipment, persons with less education may occasionally be accepted. Mechanical aptitude and high school training in automobile mechanics are helpful because workers may perform some maintenance on their machines. Experience operating mobile equipment, such as farm tractors or heavy equipment in the Armed Forces, is an asset.
Beginning material moving equipment operators handle light equipment under the guidance of an experienced operator. Later, they may operate heavier equipment such as bulldozers and cranes. Some construction equipment operators, however, are trained in formal 3-year apprenticeship programs administered by union-management committees of the International Union of Operating Engineers and the Associated General Contractors of America. Because apprentices learn to operate a wider variety of machines than other beginners, they usually have better job opportunities. Apprenticeship programs consist of at least 3 years or 6,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours a year of related classroom instruction.
Private vocational schools offer instruction in the operation of certain types of construction equipment. Completion of such a program may help a person get a job as a trainee or apprentice. However, persons considering such training should check the reputation of the school among employers in the area.
Employment of material moving equipment operators is expected to increase more slowly than the average for all occupations through the year 2005 as equipment improvements, including the growing automation of material handling in factories and warehouses, make operators more productive.
Opportunities for individuals who wish to become material moving equipment operators are related to the outlook of the industries in which they are employed. The majority of these workers are employed in construction and manufacturing industries; employment in construction is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations, while jobs in manufacturing are expected to decline. Despite the projected slow growth, this is a large occupation with many opportunities arising from the need to replace experienced workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. However, both construction and manufacturing are very sensitive to changes in economic conditions, so the number of job openings for material moving equipment operators in these industries may fluctuate widely from year to year.
Excavation and loading machine operators is the only occupation in this group that is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations. Their growth is expected to stem from increased spending on improving the Nation's infrastructure of highways, bridges, and dams. The majority of excavation and loading machine operators work in mining and construction, the sector that constructs and maintains most of these facilities.
Employment of crane and tower operators and hoist and winch operators is expected to decline as more precise computerized controls and robotics allow many of these jobs to be automated. All of the remaining material moving equipment operating occupations are projected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations, including industrial truck and tractor operators, the largest occupation in the group.
Growth of industrial truck and tractor operatorsthe largest occupation in this groupwill be slower than average for all occupations due to productivity increases resulting from improved maneuverability and efficiency of industrial trucks and tractors. In addition, although the volume of goods to be moved will increase as the economy grows, fewer operator jobs will result as material handling systems in large factories and warehouses will continue to become more automated. Some systems use computerized dispatching or onboard data communication devices to enable industrial truck and tractor operators to move goods more efficiently. In other systems, some industrial trucks and tractors may be replaced by computer-controlled conveyor systems, overhead handling systems, and automated vehicles that don't require operators.
Earnings for material moving equipment operators vary considerably. In 1994, median earnings of all material moving equipment operators were $459 a week; the middle 50 percent earned between $339 and $608. Ten percent earned less than $265 and 10 percent more than $839. Median weekly earnings of crane and tower operators were $535 in 1994; excavation and loading machine operators, $454; grader, dozer, and scraper operators, $497; industrial truck and tractor operators, $425; operating engineers, $527; hoist and winch operators, $514; and other material moving equipment operators, $463. Pay scales generally are higher in metropolitan areas. Annual earnings of some workers may be lower than weekly rates would indicate because the amount of time they work can be limited by bad weather.
Other workers who operate mechanical equipment include truck and bus drivers, manufacturing equipment operators, and farmers.
For further information about apprenticeships or work opportunities for construction equipment operators, contact a local of the International Union of Operating Engineers; a local apprenticeship committee; or the nearest office of the State apprenticeship agency. In addition, the local office of the State employment service may provide information about apprenticeship and other training programs.
For general information about the work of construction equipment operators, contact:
Associated Builders and Contractors, National Center for Construction Education and Research, 1300 North 17th St., Rosslyn, VA 22209.
Associated General Contractors of America, Inc., 1957 E St. NW., Washington, DC 20006.
International Union of Operating Engineers, 1125 17th St. NW., Washington, DC 20036.
Information on industrial truck and tractor operators is available from:
Industrial Truck Association, 1750 K St. NW., Suite 460, Washington, DC 20006.
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