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Heavy Equipment Operator

Heavy equipment operators use a variety of mobile machines and attachments. They excavate, grade and landscape earth. They also move materials and equipment.

  • Avg. Salary $63,241.00
  • Avg. Wage $30.77
  • Minimum Education Varies
  • Outlook below avg
  • Employed 13,400
  • In Demand Lower
Also Known As

Backhoe Operator, Bulldozer Operator, Cat Operator, De-limber (Processor), Driver, Equipment Operator, Excavator Front-end Loader Operator, Grader Operator, Loader Operator, Paver Operator, Power Shovel Operator, Roller, Scraper Operator, Skid Steer Operator, Trencher

NOC Codes

In Canada, the federal government groups and organizes occupations based on a National Occupational Classification (NOC) system. This alis occupation may not reflect the entire NOC group it is part of. Data for the NOC group can apply across multiple occupations.

The NOC system is updated every 5 years to reflect changes in the labour market. Government forms and labour market data may group and refer to an occupation differently, depending on the system used. Here is how this occupation has been classified over time:

  • 2006 NOC: Heavy Equipment Operators (Except Crane) (7421) 
  • 2006 NOC-S: Heavy Equipment Operators (Except Crane) (H611) 
  • 2011 NOC: Heavy equipment operators (except crane) (7521) 
  • 2016 NOC: Heavy equipment operators (except crane) (7521) 
Skills Shortage

Employers that Recruited in the Last 2 Years

Average Wage
  • Certification Not Regulated
  • Strength Required Lift over 20 kg
Interest Codes
The Heavy Equipment Operator is part of the following larger National Occupational Classification (NOC).
Heavy Equipment Operators (Except Crane)

Interest in operating bulldozers and heavy dredging, paving and surfacing equipment to deepen waterways, reclaim earth fill, lay, spread and compact concrete, asphalt and other surface materials during highway and road construction; and in operating power shovels to excavate rock, ore and other materials from open-pit mines, strip mines, quarries and construction pits


Interest in comparing information to move, load and unload cargo and to clear brush and stumps before logging activities using bulldozers and other heavy equipment


Interest in conducting pre-operational checks on equipment and in cleaning, lubricating and refilling equipment, and in building roads at logging and surface mining sites using bulldozers and other heavy equipment

Reading Interest Codes
A Quick Guide

The interest code helps you figure out if you’d like to work in a particular occupation. 
It’s based on the Canadian Work Preference Inventory (CWPI), which measures 5 occupational interests: Directive, Innovative, Methodical, Objective and Social.

Each set of 3 interest codes is listed in order of importance.

A code in capital letters means it’s a strong fit for the occupation.

A code in all lowercase letters means the fit is weaker.

Learn More

Updated Mar 31, 2018

Heavy equipment operators control heavy equipment. They do this by moving levers (such as a joystick) or foot pedals. They also turn switches and dials. Their job titles often reflect the types of machines they operate. A bulldozer operator works with a bulldozer. A grader operator works with a grader. However, one operator may work with several types of equipment. Some operators are required to check the equipment before use to be sure it’s in safe and efficient working order. This includes performing minor maintenance and changing attachments as needed.

Bulldozer operators operate crawler-tractors. These are fitted with large blades across the front. The blade is for moving obstacles. There may also be rippers on the back. These are for tearing up terrain. Bulldozers clear and level land. They are used on construction sites. They are also found on mining and forestry sites. They may push other equipment to provide traction and assistance. They may smooth land grades to finish up work on a job site.

Backhoe operators use a variety of tools on their backhoes. They can:

  • dig trenches
  • load heavy materials
  • vibrate and break rock or concrete
  • backfill excavations
  • scoop and dump materials.

There are two types of backhoes: rubber tired and track. Track backhoes are also called excavators.

Front-end loader operators operate machines with buckets on the front. These are for picking up heavy loads and dumping them somewhere else. The loads might go into piles. They might go into excavations. Other times the loads go into trucks. Common loads include earth, rock, sand, gravel and snow.

Grader operators spread and level surfaces by controlling grader blades. They control the height and angle of the blades. This way, they can move and level earth, sand, gravel and rock. They also plow snow in the winter. It takes skill to level surfaces at a specified grade. They grade over the working area again and again. They improve the level each time by looking at stakes in the earth that show the goal. They also use level gauges in the machine. Hand signals from co-workers also help.

Paver operators operate asphalt paving machines. These lay down asphalt for roads, driveways and parking lots. The operators use stakes and level gauges to perfect their work.

Power shovel operators use a boom or crane that supports a handle with a large dipper. The dipper is used to scoop up dirt, rock and coal. It then drops it into trucks or piles.

Scraper operators scrape, load and haul earth. They do this on mining or construction sites. In addition to leveling work sites, they:

  • haul soil for roads and rights-of-way
  • haul coal and ore at mining sites
  • build berms
  • create lakes
  • build large stockpiles.

Other types of operators include:

  • tree harvesters
  • skidders
  • trench excavators.

Their work uses different heavy equipment. The tools may be suited to forestry or pipeline construction, for example.

Other types of heavy equipment operators are described in the occupational profiles Crane and Hoisting Equipment Operator and Surface Mining Equipment Operator.

Working Conditions
Updated Mar 31, 2018

Heavy equipment operators work outdoors in almost any kind of weather. The cabs of their machines may be air conditioned and dust-controlled. For most, work is seasonal. They may have to work a lot of overtime during peak times. In slower months, they can expect layoffs.

At oil sands mining sites, shift work often is required. Many jobs have 12-hour shifts. Local governments normally require shifts and on-call work. Work may be on a project basis. Operators may have to travel. They may often be away from home.

The work location is often noisy. It is dusty and dirty. Sometimes equipment operators work in dangerous areas. They may have to work in confined spaces. Operators of excavating and grading equipment sit for long periods of time. Their equipment vibrates and bounces. They must be careful to avoid accidents and injury. It is important to follow signals from the ground crew.

Heavy equipment operators may have to routinely lift items weighing up to 30 kilograms.

  • Strength Required Lift over 20 kg
Skills & Abilities
Updated Mar 31, 2018

Heavy equipment operators need to possess:

  • excellent physical fitness
  • good vision and spatial awareness (for example, depth perception)
  • excellent eye, hand and foot co-ordination
  • fast reflexes
  • mechanical ability
  • an ability to work well in a team or on their own
  • good English skills (both speaking and writing)

They should enjoy:

  • using machines
  • taking a step-by-step approach to their work
  • troubleshooting problems.

Top 10 Skills Employers Are Looking For

Heavy equipment operators (except crane)
NOC code: 7521

This chart shows which job skills are currently in highest demand for this occupational group. It was created using this occupation's 35 most recent Alberta job postings, collected between Sep 17, 2021 and Oct 15, 2021.

Review these skills to learn:

  • Whether or not this occupation matches your skill set
  • What training you may need to get these skills
  • What skills to highlight in your resumé, cover letter, and interview.
Operate heavy equipment
Conduct pre-operational checks on equipment
Clean and lubricate equipment and refill equipment tanks
Type of Heavy Equipment Operated: Backhoe excavator, loader
Secure special attachments to equipment
Type of Heavy Equipment Operated: Front end loader
Perform minor repairs to equipment
Operate two-way radios and other communication equipment
Type of Industry Experience: Residential construction
Type of Industry Experience: Industrial/commercial/institutional (ICI) construction
Educational Requirements
Updated Mar 31, 2018

Heavy equipment operators often train on the job. They also take related training programs. They need to know how to:

  • operate heavy equipment safely
  • perform preventive maintenance tasks
  • diagnose mechanical problems
  • read grade plans
  • use grade stakes in measuring the amount of earth to be moved
  • follow spoken directions and hand signals
  • follow occupational health and safety requirements for personal protective equipment
  • have general GPS knowledge.

Local governments may require at least a Class 3 driver’s licence, though a Class 1 with Q endorsement is preferred.

Some operators start by completing a formal training program. Others start as labourers or truck drivers. They move to heavier equipment as they develop skills. They learn skills from experienced operators. The amount of time they need for on-the-job training depends on the type of machine and the individual’s ability.

Operators may also be required to take a few weeks of training during their employment. Equipment makers or labour unions often sponsor this training.

Most employers also require heavy equipment operators to complete first aid and safety courses as per workplace health and safety legislation.

Related Education

The following schools offer programs or courses that are related to this occupation but are not required to enter the field.

Keyano College

For a broad list of programs and courses that may be related to this occupation try searching using keywords.

Certification Requirements
Updated Mar 31, 2018

There is currently no provincial legislation regulating this occupation in Alberta.

Employment & Advancement
Updated Mar 31, 2018

Heavy equipment operators may work for:

  • general contractors who build highways, dams and airports, or install sewers or other utilities
  • residential and commercial infrastructure projects
  • local governments (in charge of streets, sidewalks and cemeteries, for example)
  • bridge projects
  • asphalt paving companies
  • pipeline companies
  • logging companies
  • oil and mining companies
  • landscaping companies
  • demolition companies
  • waste or recycling management companies
  • golf and recreation companies.

Most positions are seasonal (spring to fall). Some employers require pre-employment fit-for-work testing, which may include substance use testing, hearing testing and role-specific fitness assessments. Employers may also require post-incident, reasonable cause, pre-access and periodic substance testing.

Experienced operators may move into related positions such as safety officer or trainer. They may also advance to supervisory positions.

Heavy equipment operators are part of the larger 2011 National Occupational Classification 7521: Heavy equipment operators (except crane) occupational group. In Alberta, 82% of people employed in this classification work in the following industries:

The employment outlook [pdf] in this occupation will be influenced by a wide variety of factors including:

  • time of year (for seasonal jobs)
  • trends and events that affect overall employment (especially in the industries listed above)
  • location in Alberta
  • employment turnover (work opportunities that come up when people leave existing positions)
  • occupational growth (work opportunities that come up when new positions are created)
  • size of the occupation.

In Alberta, the 7521: Heavy equipment operators (except crane) occupational group is expected to have a below-average annual growth of 1.4% from 2019 to 2023. In addition to job openings created by employment turnover, 195 new positions are forecasted to be created within this occupational group each year.

Wage & Salary
Updated Mar 31, 2018

Wages for heavy equipment operators vary a lot depending on various factors. These include type of equipment, employer, working conditions (for example, higher pay in isolated locations) and work experience.

Heavy equipment operators (except crane)

Survey Methodology

Survey Analysis

Overall Wage Details
Average Wage
Average Salary
Hours Per Week

Hourly Wage
For full-time and part-time employees
  • Low
  • High
  • Average
  • Median
Wages* Low (5th percentile) High (95th percentile) Average Median
Starting $16.54 $37.00 $25.63 $25.00
Overall $16.54 $39.90 $30.77 $32.00
Top $19.15 $48.08 $36.15 $38.00

Swipe left and right to view all data. Scroll left and right to view all data.

* All wage estimates are hourly except where otherwise indicated. Wages and salaries do not include overtime hours, tips, benefits, profit shares, bonuses (unrelated to production) and other forms of compensation.

A: High Reliability
Data Reliability Code Definition

High Reliability, represents a CV of less than or equal to 6.00% and 30 survey observations and/or represents 50% or more of all estimated employment for the occupation.

Industry Information
Transportation and Warehousing
Forestry, Logging, Fishing and Hunting
Public Administration
Wholesale Trade
Business, Building and Other Support Services
Oil & Gas Extraction

Skills Shortage

Employers that Recruited in the Last 2 Years


Recruiting Employers that Experienced Hiring Difficulties


Employers with Unfilled Vacancies of over 4 Months


Vacancy Rate

Related Post-Secondary Field of Study
  • Driver Training
  • Trades, Industrial and Related Training

Updated Mar 31, 2018. The information contained in this profile is current as of the dates shown. Salary, employment outlook, and educational program information may change without notice. It is advised that you confirm this information before making any career decisions.

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