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Heavy Equipment Operator

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

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

  • 7421: Heavy Equipment Operators (Except Crane)

2006 NOC-S

  • H611: Heavy Equipment Operators (Except Crane)

2011 NOC

  • 7521: Heavy equipment operators (except crane)

2016 NOC

  • 7521: Heavy equipment operators (except crane)

2021 NOC

  • 73400: Heavy equipment operators
Duties
Updated Mar 22, 2023

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.

Operators must perform safety checks to be sure the equipment is in safe and efficient working order. This includes performing minor maintenance and changing attachments as needed.

Bulldozer operators drive crawler-tractors. Large blades are fitted across the front for moving obstacles. There may also be rippers on the back for tearing up terrain. Bulldozers clear and level land on construction, 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 use machines with buckets on the front to pick up heavy loads and dump them somewhere else. The loads might go into piles, excavations, or 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 use a number of methods to improve the level each time:

  • They look at stakes in the earth that show the goal.
  • They use level gauges in the machine.
  • They follow hand signals from coworkers.

Paver operators 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 scoops up dirt, rock, and coal and drops it into trucks or piles.

Scraper operators scrape, load, and haul earth to level the ground on mining or construction sites. They also:

  • 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 22, 2023
  • Strength Required Lift over 20 kg

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 operators, 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 and may often be away from home.

The work location is often noisy, dusty, and dirty. Sometimes equipment operators work in dangerous areas and confined spaces. Excavator and grader operators sit for long periods of time in equipment that vibrates and bounces.

Operators must be careful and follow signals from ground crew to avoid accidents and injury. Job sites have strict rules regarding substance use. Regular drug and alcohol testing is common.

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

Interests & Abilities

In Alberta, this occupation is part of 1 or more 2006 National Occupational Classification (NOC) groups. If there are multiple related NOC groups, select a NOC heading to learn about each one.

Heavy Equipment Operators (Except Crane)

2006 NOC: 7421

Interest Codes

Interest Codes for This NOC Group
OBJECTIVE

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

METHODICAL

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

innovative

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

Your Interest Codes

To identify or change your interest codes, complete the Interests Exercise in CAREERinsite.

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 for this NOC group 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 About Interests

Abilities

Typical ability expectations for this NOC group
Your abilities

To fill in or change the values for your abilities, complete the Abilities Exercise in CAREERinsite.

Mental Abilities

General Learning Ability

Verbal Ability

Numerical Ability

Visual Abilities

Spatial Perception

Form Perception

Clerical Perception

Physical Abilities

Motor Coordination

Finger Dexterity

Manual Dexterity

Understanding Abilities

A Quick Guide

You are born with abilities that help you process certain types of information and turn it into action. These abilities influence which skills you can learn more easily.

The abilities or aptitudes shown for this NOC group come from the General Aptitude Test Battery (GATB). The GATB measures 9 aptitudes. It groups them into 3 categories: mental, visual, and physical.

The abilities scores range from 1 to 5, with 5 being stronger.

Learn About Abilities

Traits & Skills
Updated Mar 22, 2023

Heavy equipment operators need:

  • To be physically fit
  • To have good vision and spatial awareness (such as depth perception)
  • Manual dexterity, including eye, hand, and foot coordination
  • Fast reflexes
  • Mechanical ability
  • To work well in a team or on their own
  • Communication skills (both speaking and writing)
  • To be reliable and punctual
  • To follow rules and regulations

They should enjoy:

  • Using machines
  • Taking a step-by-step approach to their work
  • Troubleshooting problems

In Alberta, this occupation is part of 1 or more 2016 National Occupational Classification (NOC) groups. If there are multiple related NOC groups, select a NOC heading to learn about each one.

Top 10 Skills Employers Are Looking For

Heavy equipment operators (except crane)

2016 NOC: 7521

This chart shows which job skills are currently in highest demand for this occupational group. It was created using this occupation's 100 most recent Alberta job postings, collected between Nov 12, 2023 and Feb 23, 2024.

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.
Tasks: Operate heavy equipment
Tasks: Conduct pre-operational checks on equipment
Attention to detail
Work Site Environment: Outdoors
Work Setting: Various locations
Tasks: Clean and lubricate equipment and refill equipment tanks
Tasks: Secure special attachments to equipment
Health benefits: Dental plan
Health benefits: Health care plan
Overtime required
Educational Requirements
Updated Mar 22, 2023
  • Minimum Education Varies

Heavy equipment operators often train on the job. They also take related training and safety programs (such as CSTS, RSTS, CSO, H2S Alive, First Aid, and Ground Disturbance). 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
  • Identify different types of soils, and handle them appropriately
  • Follow spoken directions and hand signals
  • Follow occupational health and safety requirements for personal protective equipment
  • Use GPS systems

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, which they learn from experienced operators. The time needed for on-the-job training depends on the type of machine and the individual’s ability.

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

Most employers 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.

To expand or narrow your search for programs related to this occupation, visit Post-Secondary Programs.

Completing a program does not guarantee entrance into an occupation. Before enrolling in an education program, prospective students should look into various sources for education options and employment possibilities. For example, contact associations and employers in this field.

Certification Requirements
Updated Mar 22, 2023
  • Certification Not Regulated

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

Employment & Advancement
Updated Mar 22, 2023

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.

Industry Concentration

This section shows the industries where the majority of people in this occupation work. The data is based on the 2016 Census.

In Alberta, this occupation is part of 1 or more 2016 National Occupational Classification (NOC) groups.

In the 7521: Heavy equipment operators (except crane) occupational group, 78.6% of people work in:

Employment Outlook

Employment outlook is influenced by a wide variety of factors including:

  • Time of year (for seasonal jobs)
  • Location in Alberta
  • Employment turnover (when people leave existing positions)
  • Occupational growth (when new positions are created)
  • Size of the occupation
  • Trends and events that affect overall employment, especially in the industry or industries from the previous list

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.

Note
NOC groups often include several related occupations. Although there is labour market data for the larger NOC group, this occupation makes up only a part of that group. It means data for this occupation may be different than the data shown. For example, only some of the new positions to be created will be for this occupation. It also applies to other data for the NOC group such as number of people employed.

Source: 2019-2023 Alberta Regional Occupational Demand Outlook

Related Alberta Job Postings
Wage & Salary
Updated Mar 22, 2023

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

In Alberta, this occupation is part of 1 or more 2016 National Occupational Classification (NOC) groups. If there are multiple related NOC groups, select a NOC heading to learn about each one.

Heavy equipment operators (except crane)

2016 NOC: 7521
Average Wage
$33.15
Per Hour
Average Salary
$67,920.00
Per Year
Average Hours
44.4
Per Week
Average Months on Payroll
10.7
Survey Methodology Survey Analysis

Source
2021 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey

NOC 7521 Wage Profile

Unless otherwise noted, the data shown here is for all industries and all regions in Alberta.

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.

To see the full survey data for this NOC group, visit the wage profile.

Other wage sources
To make an informed wage and salary decision, research other wage sources [pdf] to supplement this data.

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.


Hourly Wage

For full-time and part-time employees
  • Low
  • High
  • Average
  • Median
Starting
Overall
Top

Hourly Wage

For full-time and part-time employees
Wages* Low (5th percentile) High (95th percentile) Average Median
Starting $20.00 $36.54 $28.29 $28.00
Overall $24.91 $46.92 $33.15 $32.50
Top $27.62 $55.00 $40.24 $40.00

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.

Pay brackets for hourly wages

  • Starting pay: average pay offered for entry-level positions
  • Overall pay: average pay across all employees in this occupation
  • Top pay: average pay offered to top-paid employees

Industry Information

ALL INDUSTRIES
Agriculture
Forestry, Logging, Fishing and Hunting
Mining
Oil & Gas Extraction
Utilities
Construction
Manufacturing
Wholesale Trade
Transportation and Warehousing
Business, Building and Other Support Services
Public Administration

Skills Shortage

Employers that Recruited in the Last 2 Years
56%
56%)
Recruiting Employers that Experienced Hiring Difficulties
46%
46%
Employers with Unfilled Vacancies of over 4 Months
10%
10%
Vacancy Rate
3%
Related Post-Secondary Field of Study
  • Driver Training
  • Trades, Industrial and Related Training

Updated Mar 22, 2023. 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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