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Occupational Profile

Heavy Equipment Operator

Heavy equipment operators use a variety of mobile machines and attachments to excavate, grade and landscape earth or move workers, materials and equipment.

  • Avg. Salary $64,724.00
  • Avg. Wage $30.42
  • Minimum Education Varies
  • Outlook Down
Also Known As

Backhoe Operator, Bulldozer Operator, Cat Operator, Driver , Equipment Operator, Front-end Loader Operator, Grader Operator, Loader Operator, Paver Operator, Power Shovel Operator, Scraper Operator

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NOC & Interest Codes
The Heavy Equipment Operator is part of the following larger National Occupational Classification (NOC).
Heavy Equipment Operators (Except Crane)
NOC code: 7421
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

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

Duties
Updated Apr 19, 2017

Heavy equipment operators control equipment by moving levers or foot pedals, operating switches or turning dials. Their job titles generally reflect the types of machines they operate (for example, bulldozer operator, grader operator). However, one operator may operate several types of equipment.

Bulldozer operators operate crawler-tractors equipped with large blades across the front for moving obstacles or rippers on the back for tearing up terrain. They clear and level land on construction, mining and forestry sites, and push other equipment to provide traction and assistance when needed. They also may smooth and perfect final land grades in jobsite finishing work.

Backhoe operators use a variety of attachments to dig trenches, load heavy materials, vibrate and break rock or concrete, backfill excavations and scoop and dump materials. There are two types of backhoes: rubber tired and track (often called excavators).

Front-end loader operators operate mobile machines with buckets on the front for picking up heavy loads of earth, rock, sand, gravel or snow and dumping it into piles, excavations or trucks.

Grader operators spread and level earth, sand, gravel and rock, and plow snow in the winter by controlling the height and angle of grader blades. To level surfaces to a specified grade, they make successive passes over the working area, watching reference stakes, level gauges or the hand signals of other workers.

Paver operators operate asphalt paving machines that lay down asphalt for roads, driveways and parking lots with the aid of stakes and level gauges.

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

Scraper operators scrape, load and haul earth on mining or construction sites. They level work sites; haul soil for roads and rights-of-way; haul coal and ore at mining sites; and build berms, human-made lakes and large stockpiles.

Other heavy duty equipment operators manipulate the controls of machines unique to particular industries (for example, tree harvesters and skidders in forestry or trench excavators in pipeline construction). The work of still other heavy equipment operators is described in the occupational profiles Crane and Hoisting Equipment Operator and Surface Mining Equipment Operator.

Working Conditions
Updated Apr 19, 2017

Heavy equipment operators work outdoors in almost any kind of weather, although they may work in air conditioned and dust controlled cabs. For most, work is seasonal. Considerable overtime may be required at peak times and layoffs can be expected in the slower months. At oil sands mining sites, shift work often is required, with 12-hour shifts being common among some employers. Employment may be on a project by project basis and operators may have to travel and be away from home frequently.

The working environment often is noisy, dusty and dirty and, occasionally, equipment operators may be required to work in dangerous locations or confined spaces. Operators of excavating and grading equipment sit for long periods of time on vibrating or bouncing machinery. To avoid accidental injury, operators must be very safety conscious and follow the signals of ground crew members.

Heavy equipment operators may be required to routinely lift items weighing up to 10 kilograms.

  • Strength Required Lift up to 10 kg
Skills & Abilities
Updated Apr 19, 2017

Heavy equipment operators need the following characteristics:

  • excellent physical condition
  • good vision and awareness of depth
  • excellent eye, hand and foot co-ordination and fast reflexes
  • mechanical ability
  • the ability to work well in a team or on their own
  • good communication skills in English.

They should enjoy operating machinery, taking a methodical approach to their work and trouble shooting problems.

Educational Requirements
Updated Apr 19, 2017

Heavy equipment operators generally are trained on the job or take related training programs. They need to know how to:

  • operate heavy equipment safely
  • perform preventive maintenance tasks
  • diagnose mechanical problems
  • read grade plans and use grade stakes in measuring the amount of earth to be moved
  • follow directions that are spoken or given by hand signals.

Some operators start as labourers or truck drivers and move to heavier equipment as they develop skills under the supervision of experienced operators.The length of the required on-the-job training varies with the type of machine and the individual's ability.

On-the-job training may be supplemented by a few weeks of training sponsored by industry related organizations such as equipment manufacturers or unions.

Some operators start by completing a formal training program.

Most employers also require that heavy equipment operators complete first aid and relevant safety courses.


Related Education

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

Portage College

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

Employment & Advancement
Updated Apr 19, 2017

Below-average occupational growth is expected in Alberta for 2016 to 2020. Job openings are a result of employment turnover and newly created positions.

Heavy equipment operators may work for:

  • general contractors that build highways, dams and airports, or install sewer or other utilities
  • residential and commercial infrastructure projects
  • municipal streets and sidewalks and bridge projects
  • asphalt paving companies
  • pipeline companies
  • logging companies
  • oil and mining companies
  • landscaping companies
  • demolition companies
  • waste management companies.

Most positions are seasonal (spring to fall). Some employers require fitness and hearing tests prior to employment and perform routine drug testing of their employees.

Experienced operators may move into related positions such as safety officer or trainer, or 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 in this occupation will be influenced by a wide variety of factors including:

  • time of year (for seasonal jobs)
  • trends and events affecting overall employment (especially in the industries listed above)
  • location in Alberta
  • employment turnover (work opportunities generated by people leaving existing positions)
  • occupational growth (work opportunities resulting from the creation of new positions that never existed before)
  • size of the occupation.

Over 19,400 Albertans are employed in the Heavy equipment operators (except crane) occupational group. This group is expected to have a below-average annual growth of 0.4% from 2016 to 2020. As a result, 78 new positions are forecast to be created each year, in addition to job openings created by employment turnover. Note: As heavy equipment operators form only a part of this larger occupational group, only some of these newly created positions will be for heavy equipment operators.

Employment turnover is expected to increase as members of the baby boom generation retire over the next few years.

Wage & Salary
Updated Apr 19, 2017

Wages for heavy equipment operators vary considerably depending on the type of equipment, employer and working conditions (for example, higher pay in isolated locations).

Heavy equipment operators are part of the larger 2011 National Occupational Classification 7521: Heavy equipment operators (except crane). 

According to the 2015 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans in the Heavy equipment operators (except crane) occupational group earned on average from $25.86 to $35.56 an hour. The overall average wage was $30.42 an hour. For more information, see the Heavy equipment operators (except crane) wage profile.

Related High School Subjects
  • Trades, Manufacturing and Transportation
    • Mechanics
Related Post-Secondary Field of Study
  • Driver Training
  • Trades, Industrial and Related Training
Other Sources of Information
Updated Apr 19, 2017

Alberta Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association website: www.arhca.ab.ca

Calgary Construction Association website: www.cca.cc

Construction Sector Council website: www.csc-ca.org

For more information on career planning, education and jobs, visit the Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS) website, call the Alberta Career Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-661-3753 or 780-422-4266 in Edmonton, or visit an Alberta Works Centre near you.

Updated Mar 20, 2014. 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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