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Nature of the Work
* Most acquire their skills on the job, but some construction equipment operators complete formal apprenticeship programs.
* Employment is expected to grow slowly because jobs are concentrated in the manufacturing and construction industries.
* Workers in these occupations often have high pay rates, but many cannot work in inclement weather, thus reducing earnings.
Material moving equipment operators use machinery to move construction materials, earth, petroleum products, coal, grain, manufactured goods, 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, make adjustments, and perform minor repairs.
Material moving equipment operators are classified by the type of equipment they operate. Each piece of equipment requires different skills to move the different types of loads.
Crane and tower operators lift materials, machinery, or other heavy objects from the ground. They extend or retract a horizontally mounted boom to lower, or raise a hook attached to the loadline, often in response to hand signals and radioed instructions. Operators position the loads from the on-board console or from a remote console at the site. While crane and tower operators are conspicuous at office building and other construction sites, the biggest group works in primary metal, metal fabrication, and transportation equipment manufacturing industries that use heavy, bulky materials as inputs.
Excavation and loading machine operators dig and load sand, gravel, earth, or similar materials into trucks or onto conveyors using machinery equipped with scoops, shovels, or buckets. Construction and mining industries employ virtually all excavation and loading machine operators.
Grader, dozer, and scraper operators gouge out, distribute, level, and grade earth with vehicles equipped with a concave blade attached across the front. In addition to the familiar bulldozers, they operate trench excavators, road graders, and similar equipment. Operators maneuver the equipment in successive passes to raise or lower terrain to a specific grade. They may uproot trees and move large rocks while preparing the surface. Although most work in the mining andconstruction industries, a significant number of grader, dozer, and scraper operators work for state and local governments.
Hoist and winch operators control movement of cables, cages and platforms to move workers and materials for construction, manufacturing, logging and other industrial operations. They also lube and maintain the drum and cables and make other minor repairs.
Industrial truck and tractor operators drive and control industrial trucks or tractors equipped with lifting devices, such as a forklift or boom, and trailer hitches. 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. They also pull trailers loaded with materials, goods, or equipment within factories and warehouses, or around outdoor storage areas.
Operating engineers are unique in that they use several types of moving equipment discussed above. They also may operate and maintain compressors, pumps, and other power equipment at the work site.
Other material moving equipment operators only tend air compressors or pumps at construction sites, or operate oil or natural gas pumps and compressors at wells and on pipelines. Still, some others operate ship loading and unloading equipment, conveyors, hoists, and other kinds of various 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 nearly every type of climate and weather condition. 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. 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 observing proper operating procedures and safety practices.
Material moving equipment operators held about 1,097,000 jobs in 1996. They were distributed among the detailed occupation groups as follows:
Industrial truck and tractor operators 479,000 Operating engineers 157,000 Grader, dozer, and scraper operators 107,000 Excavation and loading machine operators 97,000 Crane and tower operators 45,000 Hoist and winch operators 9,000 All other material moving equipment operators 202,000
The largest proportion30 percentof material moving equipment operators worked in manufacturing. Most of these were industrial truck and tractor operators or crane and tower operators; a little over 50 percent of both worked for manufacturing companies. Over 25 percent of all material moving equipment operators worked in mining and construction; these operators were mostly in the remaining occupations, nearly half of whom worked in these two industries. Significant numbers of industrial truck and tractor operators also worked in State and local governments and in the trucking and warehousing, and wholesale trade industries. State and local governments also employed a large proportion of grader, dozer, and scraper operators, and operating engineers. 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.
Material moving equipment operators usually learn their skills 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 high school graduates, although, some equipment may require less education to operate. 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, train 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 will increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2006. The expected growth stems from increased spending on improving the Nation's infrastructure of highways, bridges, and dams. However, equipment improvements, including the growing automation of material handling in factories and warehouses, continue to raise productivity and moderate for demand skilled operators. In addition to employment growth in this large occupation, many jobs will open up because of the need to replace experienced workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.
Growth of employment among material moving equipment operators largely depends on the growth of the various industries that employ them. Construction and manufacturing employ the majority of these workers. Total employment in construction will grow more slowly than the average for all occupations, but employment of construction material moving equipment operators will grow as fast as the average. Employment of operators in manufacturing should decline in tandem with overall industry employment. However, very rapid employment growth of material moving operators is expected in temporary help organizations and companies that lease equipment
Growth of industrial truck and tractor operators, the largest occupation in this group, will be about as fast as the average for all occupations due to increased demand for operators who can manuever multiple pieces of equipment. In addition, more operator jobs will result as large factories and warehouses consolidate material handling systems and require more operators. However, growth of industrial truck and tractor operators will be constrained by technological improvements. Some systems use computerized dispatching or onboard data communication devices to enable industrial truck and tractor operators to move goods more efficiently. In other handling systems, industrial trucks and tractors may be replaced by computer-controlled conveyor systems, overhead handling systems, or automated vehicles that do not require operators.
Precision computerized controls and robotics will automate crane and tower operator and hoist and winch operator positions, slowing employment growth. Slow employment growth in construction and declines in manufacturing should cause all other material moving equipment operating occupations to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations. In addition, both construction and manufacturing are very sensitive to changes in economic conditions, so the number of job openings for operators in these industries may fluctuate from year to year.
Earnings for material moving equipment operators vary considerably. In 1996, median earnings of all material moving equipment operators were $456 a week; the middle 50 percent earned between $329 and $606. The lowest ten percent earn an average $264 a week and the highest ten percent averaged $806 a week. The following shows 1996 median weekly earnings among the detailed occupation groups:
Crane and tower operators $551.00 Operating engineers 508.00 Grader, dozer, and scraper operators 490.00 Hoist and winch operators 490.00 Excavation and loading machine operators 485.00 Industrial truck and tractor operators 415.00 All other material moving equipment operators 451.00
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 may be limited by bad weather.
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:
National Center for Construction Education and Research, University of Florida, P.O. Box 141104, Gainsville, FL 32614-1104.
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.
Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association, 2750 Prosperity Ave., Suite 620, Fairfax, VA 22301.
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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