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Operating Engineers and Other Construction Equipment Operators - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
Construction equipment operators can advance to become supervisors. Some operators choose to pass on their knowledge and teach in training facilities. Other operators start their own contracting businesses, although doing so may be difficult because of high startup costs.

Construction equipment operators held about 469,300 jobs in 2008. About 63 percent of construction equipment operators worked in the construction industry. Many equipment operators worked in heavy and civil engineering construction, building highways, bridges, or railroads. About 16 percent of construction equipment operators worked in local government. Others—mostly grader, bulldozer, and scraper operators—worked in mining. Some also worked for manufacturing or utility companies. About 3 percent of construction equipment operators were self-employed.

Job Outlook
Average job growth is projected. The need to fill jobs and replace workers who leave the occupation should result in good job opportunities for construction equipment operators.

Job Growth
Employment of construction equipment operators is expected to increase 12 percent between 2008 and 2018, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The likelihood of increased spending by the Federal Government on infrastructure to improve roads and bridges, railroads, the electric transmission system, and water and sewer systems, which are in great need of repair across the country, will generate numerous jobs for construction equipment operators who work primarily in these areas. In addition, population increases and the need for construction projects, such as new roads and sewer lines to service the increased population, will generate more jobs. However, without the extra spending on infrastructure by the Federal Government, employment may be flat as States and localities struggle with reduced taxes and budget shortfalls to pay for road and other improvements.

An expected rise in energy production is expected to increase work on oil rigs, smart grids, windmill farms, pipeline construction, and other types of power-generating facilities. Also, increased output of mines and rock and gravel quarries will generate jobs in the mining industry.

Job opportunities for construction equipment operators are expected to be good because the occupation often does not attract enough qualified candidates to fill jobs. Some workers’ reluctance to work in construction makes it easier for willing workers to get operator jobs.

In addition, many job openings will arise from job growth and from the need to replace experienced construction equipment operators who transfer to other occupations, retire, or leave the job for other reasons. Construction equipment operators who can use a wide variety of equipment will have the best prospects. Operators with pipeline experience will have especially good opportunities if, as expected, natural-gas companies expand work on their infrastructure.

Employment of construction equipment operators, like that of many other construction workers, is sensitive to fluctuations in the economy. Workers in these trades may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. However, shortages of these workers may occur in some areas during peak periods of building activity.

Wages for construction equipment operators vary. In May 2008, median hourly wages of wage and salary operating engineers and other construction equipment operators were $18.88. The middle 50 percent earned between $14.78 and $25.49. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $12.47, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $33.34.

Median hourly wages of wage and salary paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators were $16.00 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $12.94 and $20.75. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $10.77, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $26.70.

In May 2008, median hourly wages of wage and salary piledriver operators were $23.01. The middle 50 percent earned between $17.52 and $32.94. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $14.25, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $38.01.

Hourly pay is relatively high, particularly in large metropolitan areas. However, annual earnings of some workers may be lower than hourly rates would indicate because worktime may be limited by bad weather. About 27 percent of construction equipment operators belong to a union.

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