Operating Engineer Job Description, Duties and Career Outlook

Operating engineers require little formal education. Learn about the training, job duties and license requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Essential Information

Operating engineers operate and maintain heavy construction equipment. Aspiring operating engineers generally complete apprenticeships that require at least 6,000 hours of training over 3 years. During this time, 144 hours of classroom training are included each year. The equipment they are trained on is used in every sort of construction project, including sewer and water lines, highways, dams, oil pipelines and landscaping.

Required Education High school diploma or equivalent
Other Requirements Apprenticeship
Licensure Commercial driver's license or operating license required in some states
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)* 19%
Median Annual Salary (2013)* $42,540

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description for Operating Engineers

Operating engineers can be heavy equipment operators, heavy equipment mechanics or service oilers. Heavy equipment operators are trained to operate power construction equipment, such as bulldozers, front-end loaders, backhoes, scrapers, motor graders, shovels and derricks. They may also be responsible for running large pumps or air compressors. Some operating engineers are trained on only one machine, though most are able to use a variety of machines.

Heavy equipment mechanics repair and maintain all of the heavy equipment. They may do this in shops, gravel pits, power generation stations and other job locations. Most can repair almost any kind of heavy equipment. Service oilers keep all of the equipment well lubricated, from small pumps to earth movers. They also watch for and report any mechanical problems to the mechanics.

Job Duties

Heavy equipment operators drive heavy construction equipment and control their attachments, such as buckets, swing booms, scrapers and blades. They also control water and air output of pumps and compressors. Heavy equipment mechanics and service oilers share the duties of repairing and maintaining the equipment. However, heavy equipment operators also need to know basic maintenance and repair of the equipment they operate.

A vital part of the job is knowing where underground services are located and how deep they are. Operating engineers may be expected to perform equipment and materials inspections. They must be able to understand specifications and instructions, both verbal and written. Working with heavy-duty machinery requires knowledge of and strict adherence to safety regulations.

Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects operating engineer jobs to see above average growth, about 19%, from 2012 to 2022 (www.bls.gov). Additionally, there are usually more jobs for operating engineers than there are qualified applicants. Operating engineers who are capable of operating or repairing a variety of equipment are likely to have better job opportunities.

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